THE CHAPEL IN THE WOODS
Jack Halden, writer and sometime-sleuth, is intrigued when he hears the story of Birchen Bower. While having a break in the country with his cousin Isabelle, he meets Tom Jago. Jago is a Californian businessman who purchased the estate, only for his assistant, who was sent on ahead to prepare the house for Jago's arrival, to disappear, along with a fortune in diamonds belonging to Jago's wife.
Things soon turn serious when a local legend springs to life. One of the previous owners of the estate brought the so-called Jaguar Princess from overseas to England, and her ghost has long been rumoured to haunt the forest nearby. When a body, mauled to death by a large animal, is found, it seems that the Princess has returned, or, failing that, a savage beast of some description is loose in the woods. But is a human hand guiding the beast? And where will it be guided to next?
This is the eleventh Jack Haldean novel by Dolores Gordon-Smith. Those of you lucky enough to have attended the Bodies From The Library conferences will know Dolores as one of the most entertaining of the regular speakers, even - almost - convincing me to give Ernest Bramah another try. She is clearly a student of classic crime mysteries, as evidenced by her talks and - well - this series of mystery novels. And this one in particular.
This is one hell of a way to start my year's reading - if I'd managed to get the review up before the end of last year, it would easily have made it into my "Best Of" post, and without exaggeration, it would have been vying for Book Of The Year. Because it is that good.
Where should I start? Well, let's gloss over how enjoyable Dolores' prose is, as well as her skill with distinctive characters and a believable lead - or perhaps leads as Betty, Jack's wife, takes a fair chunk of the spotlight too. Jack is far from infallible, as shown in the section in the chapel - I won't spoil this outstandingly creepy section, but as the realisation dawns that he may well have been totally wrong about what he is up against, the reader is forced to rethink things as well. It's edge of the seat stuff, wonderfully written.
And the basic structure of the problem Jack finds himself up against is beautifully judged as well. When the villain is presented as a possible ghostly werejaguar, the reader knows it won't have a supernatural solution, as classic crime doesn't do that (apart from, most notably, THE BLANKING BLANK) but the reader needs to decide where to place their suspicion. Is there an actual jaguar, tame or otherwise, out there? Is someone human mauling corpses for some reason? By having questions even at that level, it helps keep the reader guessing and looking the wrong way.
And was I looking the wrong way? Well, when the villain is revealed, I almost got whiplash! While it made perfect sense as Jack explains to the villain exactly what they had been up to - much to the villain’s annoyance, in another wonderfully pitched scene - with so many little bits suddenly making sense. This is so well crafted, with one particular piece of misdirection late on being beautifully constructed…
I know this book won't be easy to find, if you don't have access to a UK library - and if you're in the UK, do use your local library - but as you just might be able to guess, I think this is well worth your time. As I said, I really like Dolores' books, but this one is easily her best - one of the best mysteries that I've read in ages in any subgenre.
In Search Of the Classic Mystery Novel (Facebook Group)
British author Gordon-Smith's thrilling 11th Jack Haldean 1920s mystery (after 2019's Forgotten Murder) takes novelist and amateur sleuth Haldean to Croxton Abbas, Sussex, where a 17th-century privateer built a fine house, Birchen Bower, as well as a chapel to contain the remains of his wife, an unhappy Peruvian princess who, locals say, haunts the woods in the form of a jaguar.
After a rich Canadian couple, Tom and Rosalind Jago, buy Birchen Bower and show up to take possession, they discover that Derek Martin, their advance man, has vanished along with his wife—along with the Jago jewels that the Martins were entrusted with. More alarmingly, in the middle of a village fete, another man, the Jagos' caretaker, is found dead in the chapel - and the wounds look like they were inflicted by a jaguar. Haldean is soon investigating the grisly killing, and the suspense ratchets up any time he or anyone else goes near the chapel, located in a thick forest filled with animal screams. The surprising revelations just keep coming. This is a real treat for those who enjoy Agatha Christie village murders.
Jenny Langton is eager to succeed in her new job in an estate agent's office, and now she has her first chance to shine: her boss asks her to visit a house that's new to the market and write up the particulars for potential buyers. When Jenny visits the grand mansion with extensive gardens, she's impressed, but, as she walks through it, she has the eerie sense she's been there before.
When she reaches the garden, the eerie feeling turns to horror when she thinks she sees a huge monster beneath an ancient tree. Frightened to tell anyone about her experience, she eventually decides to confide in her friend Betty, who's just married Major Jack Haldean, army hero, crime writer, and successful amateur sleuth.
Even the usually unflappable Jack is shocked by the bizarre and shocking story he eventually uncovers, complete with a murder from the past. Set in London just after WWII, Gordon-Smith's story is atmospheric and suspenseful. Although following the multiple plot twists can be challenging, this is nonetheless a good choice for historical-mystery readers.
Dolores Gordon-Smith has published, inter alia, eight books set in early 1920s England featuring Jack Haldean, crime writer and former Royal Flying Corps pilot (all of which I've managed to miss) and a non-fiction manual "How to Write a Classic Murder Mystery".
So I decided to give her new stand-alone classic murder mystery (currently about $3 on Kindle) a try. Wow!
This is as close to an exact replica of a Golden Age mystery as you are likely to find. Everything is completely in tune, after a few adjustments to eliminate much of the period's linguistic and prejudicial excesses. What's left could have dropped straight from early Allingham's pen.
In 1910 the robbery (at an English Country House) of a priceless jewel owned by the President of an unknown South American republic is thwarted.
Twelve years on, after revolution and counter revolution, with most of the original cast dead or disappeared, the new President comes to England to claim his heritage and save his country. Only to find paste in his possession. What follows is a deadly race between goodies and baddies to find the originals. There are murders, hidden identities, misdirection, fast cars, asylums, pig farming, plodding policeman, heartless villains, adventurous young things and all the other paraphernalia of a 1920s mystery perfectly preserved and presented. And of course, the compulsory attraction between two intelligent and attractive in every sense young people derailed by misunderstandings. The most intelligent and adventurous character, in a manner appropriate to the time, is female.
If you enjoy Golden Oldies or are just after an extremely well written mystery, look no further. I found the villains fairly obvious, and being Australian gave me an unfair advantage with the main clue, but really, this matters not a jot. The joy is in the ride and I was torn between a longing to see how it all panned out, and not wanting it to end. Very highly recommended.
THE PRICE OF SILENCE
Set during WWI, The Price of Silence has Doctor Anthony Brooke, a secret agent for the British government, trying to make sense of the murder-suicide of an unlikely couple. Before long the investigation becomes more complicated and widespread. All clues point Anthony to a gang of blackmailers and extortionists, using a housekeeping agency as their front. But every time Anthony gets close to any person with ties to the gang, he or she is killed off. At the very bottom of the investigation is Milly, a little girl hidden in a Belgian orphanage in German-occupied territory. Anthony must race around the clock to solve the crimes in order to get to the bottom of the murders, understand what Milly has to do with it, and then rescue her before she falls prey to the gang.
The Price of Silence is a fast-paced and enthralling mystery that hooked me from the onset and kept me guessing and mystified as any good crime-mystery should. Gordon-Smith keeps loading on more complications, adding to the suspense as Anthony tries to unravel the mystery, which isn't resolved until the very end. According to the publisher's write-up, the novel is "Dolores Gordon-Smith's tribute to John Buchan and the Thirty Nine Steps, now celebrating its centenary. All references and similarities are intentional." I have not read this novel, but thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Gordon-Smith's spin. A fun and exciting read
Dolores Gordon-Smith is well-known as a crime-writer, and one with a flair for 1920s' settings, but with The Price of Silence (Severn House) the action is set firmly during the First World War, and although the book begins as if it is going to be a murder mystery (three victims, two in a locked room), it soon develops into a John Buchan-esque adventure involving our hero (a scrupulously honourable military doctor) going undercover in German-occupied Belgium before the action returns to England and, after some good spy tradecraft, a dramatic shoot-out on the Kent coast with the inevitable U-boat lurking off shore.
It's jolly, fast-paced spy stuff and the villains are nicely ruthless, providing a quite high body count, and if I have a qualm, it is that the plot revolves around an orphan girl who featured in a previous novel, Frankie's Letter, published in 2012, and not having read that I felt I was missing something.
Mike Ripley, SHOTS magazine
Set during WWI, Gordon-Smith's exciting sequel to 2013's Frankie's Letter opens with the discovery of the bodies of kindly, well-regarded Edward Jowett, a bank officer, and his wife in a locked room in their comfortable London home. Jowett apparently shot his wife and then himself. When, a short time later, a Belgian priest overhears a suspect conversation in which the name Jowett is mentioned, British secret agent Dr. Anthony Brooke investigates. Aided by his resourceful and well-educated wife, Tara, and his fellow spies, Brooke uncovers some good old-fashioned clues, such as partial words on a scrap of paper found in a dead woman's hand, with Tara recognizing the significance of a colon. Brooke later makes a daring foray into German-occupied Belgium, where he must rescue an orphan girl who may hold the key to solving the mystery of the Jowetts' deaths. The trail eventually leads Brooke to a vicious nest of blackmailers and a gang of murderous criminals. Gordon-Smith smoothly inserts well-researched historical color into the derring-do plot.
Gordon-Smith consistently produces sharply written, meticulously researched, fully engaging books that pull the reader in from the first page, and her latest-a spy thriller set in London and Belgium during WWI-is no exception. The story begins with the apparent murder-suicide of prosperous London banker Edward Jowett and his wife. In a seemingly unrelated incident, a priest overhears a disturbing conversation from his confessional-a couple seem to be plotting the kidnapping of a child and a possible murder. As the plot unfolds, links between the two incidents emerge, and it seems there may be international implications. It's no time at all before the British government, in the form of Sir Charles Talbot and Dr. Anthony Brooke, becomes involved. Talbot runs a secret espionage agency within the government, and Brooke has worked for him in the past. There's plenty of suspense here, bolstered by a notably twisty plot. Old-school historical espionage.
A Jack Haldean Mystery, Dolores Gordon-Smith, Author
Severn, $28.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8541-8
The Sussex village of Croxton Ferriers, the setting for Gordon-Smith's stellar ninth mystery set in post-WWI England (after 2014's After the Exhibition), is rocked to its core when a badly mutilated body turns up in the local church. One of the two women who discovered the remains in a cupboard is Isabelle Stanton, a cousin of amateur sleuth Jack Haldean, a fighter pilot during the war who soon gets on the case. The other is Isabelle's friend, strikingly beautiful Sue Castradon, whose husband, Ned, was badly disfigured in the war and who bears grudges against everyone in general but one person in particular: Sir Matthew Vardon, a greedy, scurrilous old rascal, whose son, Simon, is smitten with Sue. A chess piece left in the church cupboard may be a vital clue. Plausible red herrings abound as Jack and the village residents ponder the case and all its incongruities over tea in the drawing rooms of Croxton Ferriers. Some readers will stay up all night to finish this fine traditional mystery.
Fans of Golden Age grande dames Christie, Allingham, and Sayers will delight in this quintessentially British murder mystery, set in 1920s England and featuring a wealth of suspects and motives, and enough twists to keep even seasoned readers guessing. When the badly mutilated body of a man is found in a church in the tiny village of Croxton Ferriers, Major Jack Haldean is called in to assist the local police in finding the killer. Not only does the dashing Haldean have previous experience in such cases, but it was his cousin Isabelle who discovered the body. The most baffling and chilling aspect of the case is the black chess piece found beside the body. Haldean is still puzzling over what the chess piece means-what message is the killer trying to deliver?-when another body turns up, with a second chess piece beside it. Understanding that he has no time to lose and that the killer is devilishly clever, Haldean finally unearths both the motive and the shocking truth about the killer's identity. For readers who complain that nobody writes like Dame Agatha anymore.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
How far would you go for the promise of gold? Many years previously, three friends visited South America together, forming a joint venture. Now, gold beckons and the Vardons are eager to get the shares before the others realise their worth.
Lord Vardon dies in a sudden turn of ill health. A poison pen letter is found by his wife, suggesting murder. A man with many enemies never dies easy - and he is only the first. Sue Castradon and Isabelle Stanton discover a hideously mutilated body in the hall of the church, a chess piece at its side. As the Chessman's kills mount, suspicion falls on Ned Castradon, quick tempered and possessing 1/3 of the company shares. At the insistence of his friends, the Stantons, Jack Haldean assists in the investigation.
In the 1920s, forensic science wasn't what it is today. Jack Haldean and the police not only have to uncover the killer, they have to discover the identity of the bodies. To the reader, it is obvious that Castradon isn't the killer, there are simply too many clues pointing to him. The challenge is to discover the real killer when there is little physical evidence. Further without being certain of the victim, motive cannot be determined. Thus the case facing Haldean is a challenging one.
Fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this clever, character driven novel.
This book is the ninth in the series of Jack Haldean murder mysteries. They are period pieces, set in 1920s England. The hero is a mystery writer who sometimes consults with local police or Scotland yard to solve real-life murders. He has a game leg resulting from his service in World War I, or rather as it was known then, the Great War. And in this book, at least, he is revealed to have a cousin who lives in the quaint village of Croxton Ferriers, where a man's body is found gruesomely murdered, wrapped in a carpet with a bouquet of lilies and stuffed into a cupboard in the vestry of the local church.
The circumstances of the murder suggest two things about the killer: first, that he is a dangerous lunatic; and second, that he is a local bloke who knows his way around the village, and particularly, his way into the normally locked church. Called in by his cousin to aid Inspector Ashley, Jack sniffs out a pool of suspects that narrows rapidly from everyone in town to three or four men - really only two, when it comes to brass tacks - but as bodies continue to drop and suspicion on the likeliest suspects continues to be thwarted by iron-clad alibis, a solution remains elusive.
The killer definitely shows signs of being deranged, sending taunting letters to his victims before their deaths identifying himself as the Chessman and leaving pieces from an expensive chess set at the scene of each crime. Hanging the murders around the neck of the right man is difficult when the identity of a couple of the victims is in question and when the prime suspect's whereabouts at the time of each murder may or may not prove whether he could have done it. Connected with the murders is a set of mining shares that have suddenly become worth a lot of money, the heart of a beautiful but unhappily married woman, the uncontrolled rage of a man maimed in the war, another man's desperation to hide his disgraceful war record, the death of a blackmailer who conspired to steal his own wife's diamonds, the criminal affairs of a chauffeur who happens to be his boss's illegitimate son, and lots of problems with drug addiction.
I thought this was a brilliantly structured whodunit, featuring a series of murders that took on entirely different aspects as the apparent motives changed, and a sleuth who puts himself in terrible danger more than once to solve the crime. Maybe I'm brilliant too, because I actually guessed how it was all going to work out long before it occurred to the sleuths, but my guess wouldn't have been worth anything without the evidence they uncovered. I could definitely see myself going back to the beginning and reading this whole series straight through from book 1, which is A Fete Worse Than Death.
I have really become a fan of these Jack Haldean mystery novels written by Dolores Gordon-Smith. She has a wonderful talent with plotting a mystery that will keep you puzzled right up until she reveals all. This one had a twist followed by a swerve. These novels are set in the 1920s following the ending of World War I and that conflict always plays a large part in the attitudes and psychological balance (or not) of various characters. This one is set in the small village of Croxton Ferriers in Sussex and our amateur sleuth, Jack Haldean, is allowed to help the police in their investigations. In fact, they rather insist on it.
When two ladies go into the church to prepare the flowers for the coming Sunday services they make a grisly discovery. But who is the person they found murdered and how did anyone get into the locked church to hide his body in the first place? This story features anonymous threatening letters and tokens left at each crime scene as communications from the murderer. In a village this small, how has this obvious lunatic remained hidden?
I like the comfy, old-fashioned feeling of this series of novels which still seem to give the mystery lovers among us enough dead bodies to satisfy our chance to show off our own solving skills. I'm not positive, but I think this is probably book #9 in the series. If you want to begin reading them right here, go ahead. You will find all the backstory for the repeat characters you need to feel right at home immediately. Highly recommended for readers of the older style of mysteries.
Donna Fletcher Crow, The Monastery Murders
As self-appointed president of the Jack Haldean fan club, I'm delighted to report that The Chessman is Jack's best case ever. Jack's charming cousin Isabelle is on hand when a body is discovered in a church cupboard in a quiet Sussex village- decorated with lilies from the vicarage garden.
The questions and suspects multiply almost as fast as the body count. But everyone seems to have a solid alibi. At one point I was reduced to asking myself if the vicar could have done it.
On top of this the reader is treated to interesting historical insights into life in England following the Great War, including a few flashbacks to battlefield scenes. You can count on Gordon-Smith to get her details right- especially when it comes to vintage cars.
Dolores Gordon-Smith is a mystery writer in the classic style of the Golden Age writers on whom she is an expert. Indeed, one can picture Smith as Agatha Christie munching away on her bag of apples as she concocts another baffling plot twist.
In the end, though, Jack unravels all the knots to bring about a particularly satisfying ending. I can't wait for his next adventure.
BY NICOLE · PUBLISHED AUGUST 29, 2015 · UPDATED JULY 12, 2016
The Chessman is the ninth book in the Jack Haldean Mystery series. Set in the 1920s, Jack, a detective novelist, is called in to help solve a murder case involving a body, a church, and a ton of lilies. When one murder spawns into many more, each marked with a chess piece, Jack must track down the serial killer before all his pieces are wiped off the board.
I was turned on to The Chessman by a post on Hogwarts Professor by John Granger. He recommended the book and announced that review copies were available. Trusting Granger's taste in books implicitly, I jumped at the opportunity. When I received the book, I didn't even bother reading the back cover or anything in the title past "The Chessman," so it took me a few pages to realize I was in the 1920s. And I didn't discover The Chessman is Book 9 until after I had finished reading. I say this because if you are wondering if this is a series where you have to start at Book 1 in order not to be lost, you don't.
The characters and world of the story are richly portrayed. And the plot kept me engaged throughout the story. I never reached a point where, other than having to put the book down for basic necessities of life, I felt like I could step away from the story with ease. Most of the time I cooked breakfast with one hand and held my Kindle up with the other. My husband and I were grocery shopping, and he had to ask me to put the book down while we walked through the parking lot so, you know, I didn't get hit by a car or anything.
If you are looking for a good mystery with an unpredictable, at least in my case, ending, I strongly recommend The Chessman. Not only is the mystery engaging, but the world is also inviting (other than the whole serial-killer-on-the-loose thing), and the characters are lovable.
Small disclaimer to my cozy-mystery friends. While the murders themselves are gruesome, most are portrayed "off camera." I didn't find the descriptions to be overly bloody in detail, but know your own sensitivity going in. The Chessman is by no means a "thriller" in the blood and guts sense. It is mostly a detective novel with the characters trying to get to the bottom of the case.
A great read!
Thank you to Seven House for providing a free review copy.
You can also listen to Dolores Gordon-Smith chat about the Cormoran Strike series on MuggleNet Academia.
It is a Friday during 1925 in the very quiet, Sussex village of Croxton Ferriers and a couple of local ladies, Isabelle Stanton and Sue Castradon have gone to the Church to change the flowers on the altar. As the fresh ones need different sized vases they entered the vestry to fetch them. Puzzled by a strange musty smell there, they opened this large cupboard and were horrified to discover on the shelf next to the vases, a naked corpse, wrapped in a tartan rug. This male corpse had been made unrecognisable by the mutilation of the head and removal of hands and feet.
Arthur Stanton, husband of Isabelle knows that the local village Policeman would not be experienced enough to deal with this crime so he telephones an old friend Detective Superintendent Ashley of the Sussex Police who agrees to come. D.S. Ashley asks for Major Jack Haldean, former Royal Flying Corps hero and present day crime novelist for his help, as as an amateur detective he has been involved in solving several previous murder incidents.
Major Jack Haldean, finds in the cupboard where the body had been located, a black marble chess knight with crystal eyes. Soon several notable villagers are receiving typed letters with messages to the effect that their deaths are imminent and the letters are signed "The Chessman".
The day before Sue Castradon had entered the church and discovered the corpse, her solicitor husband Ned had had a violent argument with Jonathan Ryle a drunken chauffeur of a local V.I.P. Sir Matthew Vardon, which had been broken up by the local vicar and this event was a hot topic of gossip in the Croxton Ferriers tea-rooms.
The clues follow one another with astonishing speed and I found the story immensely exciting and very fast moving and the pages just shot by. The story is peopled with a very interesting mix of authentic, well described characters. It was very atmospheric and expertly researched giving a real glimpse of life in a Sussex village and the wider country in the 1920s.
There are a few red herrings to draw the reader up the wrong path before the dramatic and gripping conclusion is reached. I was really flummoxed before I reached the end of this book as to how it would end and of course I got it everything wrong I'm pleased to say. I read for review her previous book After The Exhibition, the eighth in Jack Haldean series and was so impressed with that book I was very pleased to have this one to review as well. Well Recommended.
The latest installment of Dolores Gordon-Smith's Jack Haldean murder mysteries, 'The Chessman,' is a worthy addition to a remarkable series in which there has yet to be a disappointment. Ms Gordon-Smith's grasp of the Golden Age village mystery novel a la Christie and VanDyke and company is so firm that her characters become ever more credible yet Dickensesque, her plots that much more difficult to see through yet so fairly done that the reader cannot believe s/he didn't guess what was happening, and the action leading to the final confrontation so harrowing and engaging that the pages turn, sleep is forgotten, and life responsibilities are suspended until all is set right in the denouement.
Without spoiling the specific twists and turns that make 'The Chessman' work so well, I feel obliged to note that the author's Sussex countryside descriptions, her account of village life, the notes of the shadow everyone still feels of the Great War and of uncertainty in its wake, and her command of the technology of the time -- the cars, the telephone, telegraph stations, auto repair, etc. -- are as good and, as often, even better than her previous work. Jack Haldean, his country cousin, and the gendarmes, local and in London, are at their usual best, which is to say, none of the cartoonish foils or allegorical caricatures that often mar the tales told by Conan Doyle, his impersonators, and even Dame Agatha.
'The Chessman' will be enjoyed by fans of Dorothy Sayers -- and as either a stand-alone piece or as another volume in a winning series.
Highly recommended. No reservations. Five Stars.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Sir Matthew Vardon was an unpleasant man. We meet him extorting some shares from a drug addict. Successful, he leaves the desperate young man with a syringe full of a potentially lethal dose… When next we meet him, however, it is at his own funeral. He died of apparent apoplexy - but a note is found in his effects: "I AM KILLING YOU SLOWLY. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. THE CHESSMAN"
Days later, Isabelle Stanton and Sue Castradon are arranging the flowers in the church. But it's not just flowers they find in a cupboard. It's a body, with the hands and feet removed and the face battered beyond all recognition. And next to the body - an ornate chess-piece…
It seems that the Chessman has a plan - well, a hit-list at least. But in the meantime, Isabelle Stanton has contacted her brother - the writer-cum-amateur detective Jack Haldean. But he'll have to move fast to stop the death count from rising even further…
So, back to Dolores Gordon-Smith's Jack Haldean series, first visited um… five reviews ago. It was while reading that one that I spotted the latest available for review on Netgalley. As I was enjoying the first one, I thought I'd sample the latest in the series. And I'm really glad I did.
Very much written in the Golden Age style, this was an absolute treat. Jack Haldean is an affable lead - no obvious quirks apart from a dodgy leg - and there's a pleasing array of suspects, although for large parts of the narrative, the reader won't know which direction to look in.
The serial killer idea is rather hard to marry to the whodunit format. I can think of one obvious success, The ABC Murders, (actually two, although I've rarely seen And Then There Were None referred to in that way) but others generally don't pull it off so well - one problem is that with a cast of suspects, the victims tend to be anonymous which makes a motive hard to establish. If the killer instead works on the main cast, then it's usually easy to spot the killer as the book progresses. It takes a clever plot to make you care about the victims and still get blind-sided by the identity of the villain.
Talking of the characters, there's a lovely variety of characters on display - none of the two-dimensional stereotypes that often populated the books from the era that is being emulated here. There are only a few Golden Age books I can think of where I found myself caring as much about some of the characters as much as I did here - the final few pages in particular were lovely.
This book has a clever plot. Even an old dog like me had a couple of theories - all I'll say is that they were both half-right and half-wrong. If I'd put them together in the right way… but no, I was fooled. It's a clever game that the author plays here and I absolutely loved it.
Go pester your library to order a copy of it now. It's an absolute cracker. Highly Recommended.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This is the latest book in the Jack Haldean 1920s mystery series. It is every bit as good as its predecessors and I read it in less than twenty four hours. A mutilated body is found in a cupboard in a village church - close to the home of Jack's cousin Isabelle. The face is disfigured and the hands have been cut off to prevent easy identification.
At first everyone thinks there is only one person it can be and there are certainly plenty of people who might have wished that person dead. A local landowner has recently died and there have been rumours that his death was not a natural one and fingers have been pointed at the local doctor. Various people have been receiving sinister letters signed by 'The Chessman' and the investigating officer Inspector Ashley calls in Jack Haldean who has no objection to staying with his cousin and getting involved it what promises to be an interesting case.
I found this engrossing and entertaining reading with a well-constructed plot with plenty of twists and turns to it which kept me guessing almost to the last page. I liked the characters and thought they were believable and interesting and Jack himself is, as always, good value.
If you like crime stories with an historical setting without too much on the page violence then this may be one for you though the body count in this one is on the high side. The book can be read as a standalone mystery or as part of the series.
After the Exhibition
Reviewed by Terry Halligan.
I was absolutely gripped and excited by this very well written and deftly plotted mystery set in London during the years 1924-5. The author, Dolores Gordon-Smith,has written seven other novels in this series and I was so knocked out by it I have bought the first and may buy the others as well!
Major Jack Haldean an author of crime novels and an amateur detective, with his friend Scotland Yard detective Bill Rackham attends Lythewell and Askerns' exhibition of church art in Lyon House, London, which is expected to be a sedate affair. After all, Lythewell and Askern, Church Artists, are a respectable, old-fashioned firm, the last people to be associated with mystery, violence and sudden death. However, whilst they consider the exhibition rather boring and whilst they are waiting after the exhibition, a seller of flags for a charity appeal suddenly collapses. Later, their friend Betty Wingate, who is connected to the organisers of the exhibition is very surprised by her experience of a vanishing corpse and she tells Jack, who is also intrigued by it all; this all leads to a fascinating story which once started I just could not put down. The clues follow one another with astonishing rapidity and I found the story immensely gripping and fast moving and the pages just shot by. The story is peopled with a very interesting and rich cast of authentic, well described characters. It was very atmospheric and expertly researched giving a real glimpse of life in London and the wider country in the 1920s.
There are a few red herrings to draw the reader up the wrong road before the dramatic and very exciting conclusion is reached. I was really stumped before I reached the end of this book as to how it would end and of course I got it all wrong I'm pleased to say.
I'm very attracted to stories set during the 'Golden Age' of detective fiction and I see that this author is influenced by writers that I already admire such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and PG Wodehouse and having another writer of really gripping stories set during this time is excellent news. I will certainly look out for stories by this very exciting author and I'm pleased that I have already another seven to buy.
Reading the Past
Dolores Gordon-Smith's After the Exhibition, a mystery of art, blackmail, and secrets
Set in England in the mid-1920s, this complicated maze of a mystery is full of promising leads, frustrating dead ends, and puzzles wrapped in puzzles. It has the most eventful plot I've seen for a novel of its length. To use a period metaphor, at times it feels like a phonograph record played at double the proper speed.
To her credit, though, the author carefully tracks every little strand of the plot and ties the threads up tidily in the end. After finishing, I skimmed through the novel again, noticing on a second time around how well the clues had been laid.
Keeping true to form for a traditional British mystery, the village of Whimbrell Heath in Surrey is populated by eccentric characters - whose personalities, it must be said, outshine the series detectives. Who are: Major Jack Haldean, a famous crime writer, and his friend Bill Rackham, Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard. They stumble upon odd happenings in London while attending an exhibition of church art, an event one would expect to be rather calm and dull. Not so much.
Employees of Lythewell and Askern, a firm specializing in ecclesiastical artwork and furnishings, have traveled up from Whimbrell Heath to participate. Bill's an old wartime buddy of Colin Askern, son of one of the owners, while Jack finds himself more intrigued by attractive Betty Wingate, Colin's friend and Lythewell's niece.
When a woman selling flags for charity passes out in shock on the street, crying out "Art!", they help her and write it off as a peculiar event. Then things turn even stranger. The next day, when Betty approaches Bill and Jack, claiming that an Italian lady was murdered in her cottage back home, they're compelled to investigate. Betty's upset, since Colin and other villagers dismiss her as hysterical: the body she saw has vanished.
Jack and Bill make a good team, and their easygoing banter livens things up, though more backstory - this is the 8th in the series - would have helped me know them better. But with revelations of blackmail, jealousy, overlarge egos, and rumors of hidden treasure, there was more than enough to hold my attention as one stunning revelation after another came to light.
Another excellent Jack Haldean mystery. The 1920s background is believable, the characters are interesting, and the plot's twists and turns keep you guessing. The coffee trade makes a really good theme for murder and mayhem. I'd have liked more about the coffee trade myself - knowing how thoroughly Dolores Gordon-Smith researches her period, I'd have welcomed a bit more on the history of one of my favourite tipples. A brief historical note maybe, next time? And I hope next time comes soon. I love this series.
Jane Copsey - Amazon
I always enjoy the Jack Haldean books, they could have been written in the twenties, they're so full of the atmosphere of the time!
The writing is excellent as always - the discovery of the first body particlarly stands out as one of the most chilling scenes and I've ever read.
There's thrilling chases and break-neck car races, mysterious husbands, vanished coffee merchants and some heart breaking romance and - of course! - Jack, who is as suave and lovely as ever in his tiny London flat. Oh but Dolores, there was one death I absolutely can't forgive you for...
Penny Wallace - Amazon
Off The Record
You know the drill: two men in a meeting, a shot rings out, one of them is found with a bullet in him, the other holding the gun that fired it. Stir in a "But he was already dead when I got here!" and simmer until an associate of an-amateur-sleuth-with-a-friend-in-the-police asks them to get involved (usually for personal reasons). That Off the Record (2010) follows this recipe so perfectly is a credit to how perceptively Dolores Gordon-Smith has assimilated the Golden Age detective novel, because never does it feel just like we're jumping through hoops for the sake of it. The setup is familiar, but never less than engagingly handled.
And such a classically GAD setup cries out for a classically-styled GAD novel, which is exactly what the 1925-set Off the Record delivers. In terms of suspects, structure, motive, and era-appropriate attitudes - dark whispers of relatives who were felons, of madness running in families, or the manner in which one character's background is revealed to have involved (sensation) an unofficial adoption at some point - it's perfect, all the way down to our possibly overbearing victim and the "philanthropic tyranny" with which he views the world. We even get "a spate of burglaries in the villages roundabout" and a couple of clues that would have worked perfectly in the Golden Age - indeed, one of them is lifted almost wholesale from a Dorothy L Sayers novel ... it's a warming, enveloping cloak of GAD goodness, all the way from 2010.
Into this murder, then, swaggers Jack Haldean, detective-story writer and man-about-town who, through his friendship with Detective-Inspector William Rackham, is able to inveigle himself into the matter of how Charles Otterbourne came to die. And for the first half, while we find our feet in these classic waters, things seem to progress along an expected route, with a murder or two and a savage attack on an old man clearly forming some kind of pattern, but what? I had my bird picked out pretty early, despite a moderate effort at throwing dust into the eyes of any suspicion directed that way, and as we approached midway with a suicide in a hotel coming to light, I was wondering where things would go from there.
Well. Good heavens, this might be last time I take for granted the safety of any character in a Dolores Gordon-Smith book, because my word do a lot of people meet their clogs in the second half (by the time we get an anxious phone call that ends with the fateful "I could do with talking things over. I think I might have made a fool of myself", any fictional sleuth with even a modicum of self-awareness would high-tail it out the door...!). And, as the murders pile up, the puzzle becomes commensurately complex and involved, with certain scenes cleverly presented to allow assumptions to be made and then revisited to show how neatly that assumption was introduced. And, as in the most delightful examples of GAD, we're made aware of the workings of the plot even as the gears are grinding away in the background, with discussions concerning how our key suspect in it all ends up so obviously The Key Suspect that surely something must be dodgy, and our Amateur Detective saying things like:
"You must remember that my imagination is warped by writing detective stories, where a complete alibi is very suspicious indeed."
The plot becomes increasingly difficult to talk about without spoiling things (there are two delightfully instructive episodes which could both be called The Man Who Wasn't There), so I will just mention here how much I like Jack Haldean. He's an affable, well-meaning man with something of a gift for insight that stops before he becomes a superman-detective but elevates him above the norm. And Bill Rackham gets to enjoy being one of the few fictional detectives with an AD on his arm not to come off as a yokel in comparison; together they are a very engaging central pair, working through deductions in a way that's intelligent - the 'sending a letter to the hotel' episode is smart work - and incisive.
There's also a great passage about halfway through, unrelated to the plot, concerning two magazines that are about to publish two very similar crime stories about poisoned politicians, with Jack called in to provide a replacement for his employer.
"Ours is about a poisoned shepherd's pie and a Home Secretary but the principle's the same. Damn these ruddy writers. It's hard enough to tell the magazines apart as it is and if we start running the same stories at the same time, we haven't a chance."
I'm not going to claim for a second that this was the intent, but it got me reflecting on just how much overlapping ground the best (and, I suppose, the worst) Golden Age works covered. It's phenomenal when you think of how little original ground remained within GAD after even a few short years, and yet how many variations the best (and, I suppose, some of the worst) authors were able to find. I'm also fascinated by Haldean's replacement story of someone being killed by "an electrified window frame", because the hero is "middle-aged and bearded" and "the beard's important" - the mind boggles ...
It's fitting, then, that the eventual solution here relies on a trick that the Golden Age delighted in ... and I could kick myself for not seeing it. In fact, pretty much every trick the whole way along is styled after something you could doubtless find in a detective novel from the 1920s, right down to the sheer volume of murders shortening the list of viable suspects past the point of the eventual reveal really being a surprise ... but, I suppose, everyone's mileage could well vary on that point. And, on an entirely personal level, it greatly amuses me to review two books in two weeks that make reference the the Red Queen's beliefs in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), and any book that manages to include 'otorhinolaryngological' is surely worth a look, isn't it?! Jack Haldean is fast becoming a favourite in this house, so expect there to be Trouble Brewing (2012) before too much time has passed.
Jim Noy blogging at The Invisible Event
Recording tape and gramophones probably don’t sound like promising grounds for a novel, but in Off The Record the technology is the MacGuffin for a splendid mystery, a story so deftly put together I read it a second time to see how it worked.
The setting is 1920’s England. The First World War still haunts people who are now enduring the fading of the British Empire, the crumbling of social tradition.
In the village of Stoke Horam, opinionated baronial Charles Otterbourne has a gramophone factory. Nutty genius Alan Carrington comes to him with a revolutionary new idea for recording sound. They meet but don’t mesh. Soon bodies are showing up all over the place and detective story writer, Jack Haldean, who has captained several other novels by Gordon-Smith, comes in to make sense of it all.
Gordon-Smith’s writing is quick and sure; her characters emerge as real people within a few lines. The period dialog is especially good, colloquial with affectation and the historical detail, unobtrusive and precise, coveys a beautiful sense of the time before instant communication collapsed all our lives into a single moment.
Rereading the novel was a thorough pleasure. The plot is seamlessly assembled; Gordon-Smith, a devotee of Agatha Christie, puts the truth always there in front of you, manipulating emphasis and expectations to keep it all a surprise. The solution to the mystery, incorporating the technology that started everything off, ties up the whole story in a single satisfying knot. Off The Record should appeal equally to lovers of historical fiction and detective novels and doubly to fans of both.
Historical Novels Review, published by the Historical Novel Society (USA and UK) Issue 56, May 2011 - Editors Choice
In Stoke Horam in 1920s England, Charles Otterbourne owns a paternalistic
company, New Century Works, which manufactures gramophones, typewriters,
and telephones. However, the principled, philanthropic Otterbourne is suspected
by his accountant of embezzling company pension funds. When Andrew Dunbar
and the eccentric Professor Alan Carrington approach Otterbourne about
purchasing Dunbar’s company to get the rights to Carrington’s new invention, an
electrical recording system, Otterbourne is murdered at the meeting, apparently
by Carrington. Did he really do it? Who else would want Otterbourne dead? Was
it personal or professional? When Dunbar is also murdered, Carrington’s son,
Gerard, becomes the chief suspect. Inspector William Rackham consults writer
Jack Haldean to help him unravel the mystery. Plot twists, deductive reasoning,
step-by-step investigation, and details of the newly invented electrical recording
system add to this leisurely paced British mystery.
Jack Haldean, World War I pilot turned mystery writer and amateur sleuth, takes
up a case involving big improvements to gramophones.
The firm of industrialist Charles Otterbourne, who’s known for his good works,
plans a merger with that of Andrew Dunbar to develop a radical new sound
machine created by Professor Alan Carrington. But the merger is derailed
when Carrington is found, gun in hand, with the body of Otterbourne, and he’s
arrested by the local police. His son Gerry admits to his cousin Steve Lewis,
who’s married to Otterbourne’s daughter Molly, that his brilliant father is mentally
unstable. Soon afterward, the professor is found dead in his cell, seemingly
ending the affair. But Gerry’s discovery that Otterbourne had embezzled the
funds in his workers’ retirement plan convinces him that Otterbourne committed
suicide. Knowing how ruthless his stepfather can be, Dunbar’s stepson asks him
to look into the case. Developments continue at a spirited pace. An uncle of Alan
and Gerry’s is attacked, and Dunbar is found shot in a hotel. Although Gerry is
arrested for the murder, Jack thinks he may be innocent and sets out to prove it
by following the twisted path of family and business relationships gone wrong.
Set in 1924, Gordon-Smith’s fifth Jack Haldean mystery (after 2010’s A Hundred Thousand Dragons) gets off to a sluggish start, but the later, near-manic pace more than compensates. When the butler and chauffeur of entrepreneur Charles Otterbourne, whose company is about to manufacture a machine that will record and play sound electronically, hear a gun shot, they rush to their master’s study, where they find him dead on the hearthrug, with Alan Carrington, the machine’s eccentric inventor, kneeling nearby, gun in hand. When Carrington later commits suicide in prison, the case appears closed. But an alarming number of murders all somehow connected to the Otterbourne family deeply troubles Scotland Yard’s Insp. Bill Rackham, who turns for help to his friend and confidant, detective fiction writer Jack Haldean. Haldean’s impish wit, charming manner, and imaginative flights of fancy bring cohesion and sparkle to a busy plot.
I enjoy the Jack Haldean mysteries. Their 1920s setting contains a fascinating blend of bright Roaring Twenties glitz and dark Great War shadows. There's always a good mix of well-drawn characters. And Jack himself is one of the most delicious sleuths around: likeable (and fanciable,) brave (an ex-air ace,) intelligent (just as well, given the convoluted cases he gets drawn into solving.)
OFF THE RECORD is about the gramophone industry, which was at a crisis point because of the advent of radio, with its clearer sound quality. Dolores Gordon-Smith has clearly done her research here, and it's fascinating, especially perhaps for people like me who can remember wind-up gramophones. I'd have liked more on the technical side actually, because sound recording has always intrigued me.
As the story starts, tension is building like a gathering thunderstorm. Charles Otteerbourne is a gramophone manufacturer whose firm is in financial trouble, going to a crucial meeting with a possible business partner and an eccentric but brilliant scientist who may just have invented a much better type of record player. However, the meeting becomes stormy and culminates in Otterbourne's violent death. Murder or suicide? If murder, who has a motive? Jack works his way through a maze of contradictory clues to an unexpected and satisfying resolution.
Jane Copsey - Amazon
Off the Record is another of Gordon-Smith's genial and ingenious crime mysteries set evocatively among London's upper echelons during the aftermath to the Great War. Readers familiar with the previous tales in the series can expect - and will receive - a brisk pace, plenty of action, an engaging detective(the now fully established Major Jack Haldean)polished prose and subtle use of period detail. But the novel's strongest feature is the author's masterly handling of plot -whose inventiveness and byzantine complexity will delight those who like nothing better than to spend an afternoon negotiating the twisting paths and blind alleys of a five star labyrinth! Anyone with a fond regard for the 'Golden Age' of crime writing and who relishes the feints and sleights of a good puzzle will enjoy this book immensely.
Suzette A Hill
The back flyleaf of Dolores Gordon-Smith’s new Jack Haldean mystery — the fourth of
these — tells us that the author (let us call her DGS to save a few trees) has had a
varied and colourful career that includes work as a Christmas pudding maker. This
suggests a taste for a rich and spicy confection, with perhaps a few hidden surprises,
and certainly the creation of a treat.
For mystery fans, the novel lives up to the pudding.
The basic ingredients are, broadly, commonplace for the genre — country houses,
Mayfair flats, London clubland, and the easy male camaraderie of public school chaps
who had served in the army or are connected by family. The female characters are
fewer, but know how to deal with the cook and make sure the domestic
arrangements all function properly. The time is the 1920s, when memories of the
Great War are still fresh, and life offers echoes of the pre-war world, but disturbing
elements of modernity are threatening to unravel further the already loosened social fabric.
To these ingredients DGS adds some unusual twists and flavours. The inter-war boom in consumer electrical goods
— not least the electri c gramophone — proves pivotal, and provides both the title and a key device in the story. We
find that supposed representatives of the English middle class are, in fact, not what they seem. These are changing
times, and from the mix, a mystery, with a serious body count, develops rapidly.
The hero, Jack Haldean, fits the part beautifully, as a slightly more modern John Buchan character, and is now
developing greater depth as DGS’s work expands. While he is the hero, and solves the mystery (of course) our
author is wise enough to allow him not to dominate, and gives her other characters, entertaining enough as they
are, space of their own.
Strongly recommended — a careful recipe, well mixed and cooked to perfection.
Mystery Women Magazine - Rebecca Jenkins
I have long been a fan of Dolores Gordon-Smith's Jack Haldean stories of post World War I England with their flashbacks to events of the war, but now in Frankie's Letter Gordon- Smith treats readers to a full-blown war story with all the action, terror and intrigue that implies.
Frankie's Letter is not a battlefield novel, but rather, a spy novel about Anthony Brooke, a young Englishman who had studied in Germany before the war and passed himself off as a native German as a student prank, but when war came used the skill in deadly seriousness serving the English intelligence service. The tables are turned when Anthony discovers that there is a German spy doing the same thing in England, passing himself off as an English gentleman. The action moves swiftly from Germany to London to the English countryside, but in the background of everyone's mind are the all-too-real horrors of the mud-clogged trenches.
This is an excellent page-turner of a novel with superb background detail and characters you really care about from an author who knows her period.
Donna Fletcher Crow, A Very Private Grave, The Monastery Murders
An Evocative Thriller
Something of a change of pace for Dolores Gordon-Smith - set before the swing of the twenties that her previous books revel in, Frankie's Letter is a thrilling spy story which flits between the sodden rooftops of enemy territory to the unsettled calm of the English Countryside, where the violence of war infests the secret lives of the characters.
As always, DGS is wonderfully evocative of the era she explores through a plot that never lets up the pace. Highly recommended to John Buchan fans!
One Hundred Thousand Dragons
March 12th 2020
When Jack Haldean encounters Durant Craig in the lounge at Claridge's hotel, the latter apparently carries a grievance from their war days and offers up a volley of abuse before storming out. Haldean refuses to disclose the reason for Craig's outburst - offering only that "I let him down rather badly once…I deserve it" - and instead seems keen to forget the meeting. When a mysterious car accident during a fancy dress party raises the possibility of murder, it's not long before Halden and Superintendent Ashley find themselves investigating a menage that involves one Durant Craigs ... and so it seems that Jack Haldean has a reckoning with the misdeeds of his past.
The static nature of most Golden Age detective characters meant that their authors were free to simply fill in a few shadows and leave them be for 40 years, but modern writers don't have that luxury. Thus even writers of Golden Age-era fiction have an obligation to work in a Dark Past, and I suppose the long you leave it the harder it becomes. Thus the fourth book in a series, as A Hundred Thousand Dragons (2010) is, becomes possibly the best place for it. I've only read one preceding title, third book As If by Magic (2009), but have enough of a sense of Haldean (effectively a free agent in proceedings, so falling into the Amateur Detective mould) and the people around him to be invested in the setup, and we're early enough in the series that it's not going to wildly unbalance anyone's views of the character if he does indeed turn out to be the coward and scum Craig brands him.
Before we get to that, however, there's the small matter of a car veering off the road and bursting into flames, and a charred body being discovered inside once the fire has been extinguished. Some solid detection and reasoning leading Haldean and Ashley to the door of archaeologist and adventurer Mr. Vaughan (I, er, don’t think we ever learn his first name) and a confusing set of results that seem to point to a man being simultaneously dead and sitting several miles away in Vaughan's house having afternoon tea. It's not technically an impossibility, nor is it presented as such, since our investigators admit there’s some surmise in their reasoning, but being argued towards that moment by little degrees is very pleasing and pays off neatly. Gordon-Smith writes very well indeed, and adds in lovely little flourishes like the exceptionally dense pair of constables found guarding the scene of the crime:
"He had a sort of rug or big tent rolled up on the back seat and I said it was a bit cold for camping. He laughed and said you wouldn’t find him trying it at this time of year, so I reckon it must have been a rug, after all."
Jack's eyes slid to the blackened body in the car. "Was the rug large enough to cover a man?"
Ashley drew his breath in sharply. "Well? Was it?"
Constable Marsh looked bewildered. "But why should a man cover himself up with a rug, sir? If he had done, he must have been completely inside it. I couldn't see him. Why should anyone do such a thing, sir? It'd be all dusty and very uncomfortable. It doesn't make any sense."
Alongside some 1920s era-appropriate character work - Vaughan is automatically respected because he "got his Blue at Cambridge and won a cup at Henley years ago", or being able to rely on a ticket collector knowing all four people who boarded a local train - there are lovely turns of phrase, such as someone's beard being likened to "an exploding mattress" or a photographer "emerg(ing) like a Jack-in-the-Box from his black shroud". The easy badinage between Haldean and his various friends — his cousin Isabelle, her fiancé Arthur Stanton, Inspector Bill Rackham — carried with it a sense of people who know and trust each other ("I haven’t taken out the patent" he replies when Isabelle complains that sitting and watching him think isn't very exciting. "You can think as well.") and so makes his "shrinking reluctance" to admit to what past he shares with Craig all the more striking.
This is revealed at the halfway mark, and is compelling from both sides: you can understand Craig's rage, and yet also have sympathy for Haldean's situation. Too far into a series it's tempting to absolve your protagonist of too much blame, but a fine line is walked well here between making Haldean responsible and yet also very much the fallible hero. From here you don't get much chance to reflect for too long, as things progress with wildly joyous abandon from a detection plot to a sort of espionage tale, with a mysterious poem possibly hinting at the need for some code-breaking, and then an Indiana Jones-esque final act where direction are followed, the bad guys pursued, and a confrontation is had. If the changes in tone can be a little jarring at times, it's refreshing to see someone apply themselves to the various facets of a genre hybrid with as much skill as this: the detection’s very good, the filigree'd work around setting up the (possible) code is very good and - importantly - very well-justified, and the adventuring towards the end is suitably epic in its sweep.
Plus, you get descriptions like this:
He couldn't believe there was another living soul for miles. Unconsciously he relaxed. He walked away from the shelter of the aircraft and gazed at the city in awestruck wonder. He seemed to have stepped outside of time. Around him stood what looked like a Roman street, with pillars, temples and palaces, but he didn't seem to have gone back in time but rather forward, forward to the end of the world, when all the works of man stood deserted. As far as he could see, nothing had been built here. Everything had been carved, carved out of the sandstone. The sun was getting low and made the colours in the rock glow as if they were lit from within. White, yellow, orange, pink, crimson, green – more hues and shades than he had ever imagined – swirled in dips and waves in a silent symphony of colour. He could easily have watched the rocks until the sun went down but he forced himself to withdraw from a contemplation of the eternal and back to practicalities.
…and a sort-of-maybe Agatha Christie reference that's a bit subtle for once, and a superb evocation of the romance of an era where it was possible for distant lands to be found unspoiled, and for the possibilities of such places to tug at the soul. It's enough to make me want to jump in a one-engine plane and fly out into the middle of the desert myself. But, like, in a good way.
At the start of Gordon-Smith’s enjoyable fourth Jack Haldean mystery set in the 1920s (after 2009’s As if by Magic), the former Royal Flying Corps pilot and mystery writer runs into a man who bears him a serious grudge, explorer Durant Craig, in the lounge of London’s Claridge’s Hotel. When Durant, “one of the few Englishmen to have been through the Yemen,” denounces Jack as a coward, Jack makes no effort to defend himself, leaving the reader to wonder how the likable Jack could have offended his accuser.
Jack retreats to Sussex for the weekend, to attend a country house party. Alas, the festivities are interrupted by an exploding car that Jack soon learns is a coverup for murder. While Jack tries to help his friends solve the crime, he also conceals relevant details about himself that could offer clues. A startling discovery, however, makes him realize he must reveal some unpleasant truths about his part in the Great War in order to thwart future killings. Traditional mystery fans will be well satisfied.
A bit of postwar country-house mystery, a bit of Lawrence of Arabia, a bit of Indiana Jones, Gordon-Smith’s latest is eccentric, unusual, suspenseful, and gripping. Just back from WWII, Jack Haldean agrees to meet his cousin Isabelle and her fiancé, Arthur, for tea at the Savoy, but when the trio is introduced to the famous Arabian explorer Durant Craig, Jack’s reaction is both bizarre and unexpected. Putting it down to the after-effects of war, Isabelle and Arthur persuade Jack to accompany them to a house party in rural Sussex. But at the party, the trio witness a gruesome car fire. Assuming it’s a tragic accident, Jack soon realizes it’s murder, and when Durant Craig turns out to have been present, Jack suspects the explorer's involvement. What he can’t know is that the murder will force him to revisit one of the most traumatic episodes of his life, compel him to return to the Arabian desert, and force him to confront an old and deadly nemesis. This satisfying mix of mystery and high-concept adventure features glamour, romance, suspense, style, and charm and is sure to appeal to a wide range of readers.
Booklist - 3 star review
Jack Haldean returns with a rip-roaring adventure in Dolores Gordon-Smith’s fourth book about him. Jack is a 1920’s sleuth with all the First World War baggage that one might expect of a young man of that era. He was a pilot who suffered a leg wound which can affect him still; the psychological scars from the war are more hidden and serious. Jack’s enjoyment of the upper-class activities of his period such as dining at the Ritz or going to a costume ball is marred by an encounter with a spectre from his past. In quick succession other exciting and dangerous happenings catapult him into a mystery that seems to link with his war experiences.
This book ranges over a wider geographical area than previous stories have done – from deepest Sussex to the middle East. The swashbuckling activities of Jack evoke the image of a Rider Haggard hero while the cerebral efforts to interpret clues refer us to Sherlock Holmes.
I really enjoyed this book in which Jack faces the demons of his past and gets the chance to fly a plane again. I find myself speculating on what will happen next since these events must impact on his future. As always, the period detail is accurate and carefully used to produce a sense of time and place. I do miss the superb period covers of the 3 previous books, although this one is eye-catching in its own way.
Jennifer Palmer - Mystery Women Magazine
If you haven't yet seen the film "Lawrence of Arabia" in the Peter O'Toole incarnation, don't read this yet -- go rent the film first.
Because Dolores Gordon-Smith's take on postwar England and its wounded heroes does much more than bring Lord Peter Wimsey out of the closet and into the person of aviator Jack Haldean. In this fourth Haldean mystery, A HUNDRED THOUSAND DRAGONS, Gordon-Smith also re-writes the poignant and magnificent historical myth of Lawrence that O'Toole portrayed so brilliantly.
Haldean isn't crippled by Lawrence's inability to bond with the people he was born among. His good friend Arthur Stanton, about to marry Jack's cousin Isabelle, knows something of what the Great War has broken in Jack. And as the three friends attempt to untangle a murder in an English country house, they find that there are good reasons to mistrust visitors with German accents, if they happen to also be unscrupulous, violent, and manipulative. And when the criminal types decide to manipulate the Arabs as well, Jack is caught in the midst of exactly the sort of situation a man with his internal scars ought to avoid.
Meticulous and logical, you can't say Jack rushes in where angels fear to tread. Even when invited to theorize by police Superintendent (and Jack's friend) Ashley, Haldean stays calm and measured:
Jack paused to arrange his thoughts. "I think there was a murder," he said eventually. "I think the murderer concealed the body under a rug [blanket] and drive to the Hammer Valley. I think the murderer positioned the car against a tree and subsequently set fire to it."
And when Ashley invites him to go further and put a name to the criminal, Jack makes it clear that the evidence only supports a guess at this point. He's an ideal sleuth because he doesn't get ahead of the facts of the case.
Yet the trembling of Jack's hands betrays his agitation, and for him to take on the challenges of flying a small plane and confronting well-armed evil will cost him dearly.
Gordon-Smith spins a good tale that's perfect vacation reading: drenched in period costume and language, authentically exotic at times, and very, very English in its pacing and heroism. Well done, indeed; here's a series to gather and set on the shelf for those long winter afternoons, as well as during this milder season's rainy interruptions to outdoor adventures.
Oh yes, wondering about those "hundred thousand dragons"? Well, Jack's thinking poetry; after all, the mastermind he's after is self-styled "Ozymandias," that dreaded "king of kings" of the "antique lands." And in fact, it's through poetry of a sort that he figures out the most significant clues.
Beth Kanell of Kingdom Books, Waterford, Vermont
In her fourth Jack Haldean mystery, A Hundred Thousand Dragons, Dolores Gordon-Smith opens with what appears to be a classic post-Great War country house mystery featuring England's kind but wounded gentlefolk. After exhuming multiple details for a time-and-place detection solution around aburned body in a car accident, veteran Jack Haldean -- still shaken from a war exploit that he's reluctant to divulge -- assists his friends in pinning
the crime on the foreign agent responsible. But when he finally discovers the motive for the murder, he faces having to climb back into a small
plane's cockpit and pursue the criminal in the ancient lands of Araby -- or Egypt. Ozymandias, King of Kings, inspires this murderer; but will his works
persist, unlike his namesake's? Gordon-Smith spins a good tale drenched in period costume and language, authentically exotic at times, and very, very
English in its pacing and heroism. Read this one, and you'll want to collect its three popular predecessors.
Independent Mystery Booksellers’ Association of America
Dolores Gordon-Smith knows how to tell a ripping good yarn and A HUNDRED
THOUSAND DRAGONS is Jack Haldean's best adventure yet. The explosion of a
burning Rolls Royce with a body in it brings on an investigation that forces
Jack to relive the youthful failure that has haunted him for years.
Following the clues of a fiendishly clever cypher, Jack returns to the
scene of his former torment. His desperate attempt to right old wrongs and
prevent new ones leads to an explosive ending that will have Indiana Jones
fans and Jack Haldean fans cheering.
Donna Fletcher Crow
Dolores Gordon-Smith's latest Jack Haldean novel, A Hundred Thousand Dragons, runs true to form - i.e. an intriguing mystery meticulously unravelled (code-breaking buffs are well catered for), period detail smoothly woven into the narrative, and some fine description. In this last respect the hero's solitary flight over the Arabian desert and his landing near the 'rose-red city' of ancient Petra is especially well evoked, the writer creating a mood of uncannily still, brooding beauty. It is a mood that contrasts starkly with the sprightly banter of London's cocktail circuit which opens the novel and gets things off to a lively start. But landscape and social texture apart, being a Haldean adventure there is planty of gripping action, tension and surprise. Jack crosses swords with the formidable Durant Craig (likened to an Assyrian bull!) a sort of irascible, hirsute version of T.E. Lawrence;and becomes perilously embroiled in Turkish and German espionage where he is dogged by the loathsome Lothar Von Erlangan. Disturbing things happen in Arabia, as also in the cosier confines of rural Sussex or indeed in the darkened alleyways of the Tottenham Court Road. But despite the mounting fear and lurking violence Gordon-Smith tells her tale with panache and humour, and the hero's fans will not be disappointed.
Suzette A Hill
As If By Magic
31 Oct 2019
Disorientated, drenched, and on the verge of a fever, George Lassiter wanders the streets of London until attracted to a particular house which he breaks into in order to warm himself by the fire. While he is waiting in the darkness and warmth, three people enter, one of them apparently drops dead on the spot, and Lassiter beats a hasty retreat before being caught by a local bobby. Upon telling his story, the house is investigated and no sign of a body is found, so Lassiter is carted away to the local hospital. And when Lassiter's friend, part-time sleuth and general man-about-town Jack Haldean, hears of his predicament, it's the beginning of a complex and dangerous skein.
Elsewhere, Haldean's other friend Inspector William Rackham must deal with the conundrum of a naked body found floating in the Thames, and the small matter of a serial killer who is plucking young women off the streets at random and later depositing their corpses in that same fluvial resting place. Adding a knackered, babbling South African to his workload seems like an insult after facing injury, but nevertheless Lassiter falls into Rackham's lap and it's via this association that Haldean is made aware of his friend's predicament and gets drawn into both cases. And, well, do you think these events might all be connected? Who's to say?! But yes, yes they are.
While coming across like, and set in, the sort of adventure-based puzzle plot of the 1920s, the genius of As If by Magic (2009) is that the plot itself is nudged along with really the gentlest of touches, so that come the end, when everything joins up, there are some genuinely fabulous surprises. The thread that develops from Lassiter having abandoned his life in South Africa to tread London's streets is resolved so damn neatly that, were I a younger and more flexible man, I would have kicked myself for not seeing it coming. But, see, Dolores Gordon-Smith juggles a lot of stuff here, and with an effortlessness that always had me looking for the wrong things in entirely the wrong places.
It's difficult to explain, and I have no desire to give anything away, but a whole plot thread was running through this without me even realising that it was there until the person responsible turned up and claimed responsibility. I simply…wasn't looking for that, I'd been fixated on other things. In true Golden Age style, there's easily enough going on - the early revelation of who lives in the house Lassiter breaks into, for one, plus the reason for his insistence on everything therein being too small, plus the midway reveal of a certain something that's as jarring and surprising as almost anything I've read in a good year or more - that, while your mind scatters to grab hold of these foreground threads, an inexorable weight of other events is building in the background. And I was having so much fun with these foreground events, I was more than happy for the tsunami to sweep me along without even considering to look for a cause.
Haldean and Lassiter are very genial company - as are Haldean and Rackham, though that relationship mainly consists of Rackham showing up to tell Haldean what he, Rackham, has been doing for the last 40 pages before disappearing off again - and the whole enterprise is helped along by some lovely turns of phrase and contemporary touches. It never occurred to me that clubs where one went dancing would have circulating 'dance hostesses' who would accompany any unpaired men, nor that one would be expected to pay them, nor that there was a fashion for such woman to have white make-up on their faces; the idea that a single woman visiting a single man in his rooms could be the root of scandalous gossip seems hilariously antiquated, but I'd never really considered that, either (and I suppose GAD authors avoided writing about it because, well, imagine the scandal!). Elsewhere we have "a portly and glacially respectable butler" and business premises so ostentatious that they "might as well have set up in an Italian church" - lovely moments, both, and two of just plenty on offer.
It was an appreciable moment before she raised her eyes to his and Rackham, who had been prepared to offer sympathy, was startled to catch a look of thinly veiled anticipation. It was almost triumphant, he thought, repelled. Dammit, the woman might have had a row with her husband, but did she want him to be dead? Then, just as quickly, the look vanished to be replaced by conventional worry.
I've not gone into the plot too much because I don't want to give you any sense of what to ignore (or what to pay attention to, I suppose). The synopsis on my Soho Constable hardcover edition was helpful in that regard since it gets details wrong (saying the book is set in 1922 when it opens in - and only moves forward from - November 1923, for one) and stresses aspects of the plot that I'd argue get sidelined quite quickly. Going into this finely-tuned plot unprepared is the best advice I can offer, since there's a lot here to enjoy when all the patterns fall out - with my only real criticism being that there's an overburdening of what I'll call 'the H-word' come the end which, while no doubt realistic, took me out of some of the finer points (the trapped cat for one...).
Too late I realise that I've queued this review for Hallowe'en, and so should probably have picked something with a spooky or sinister air. A ghostly impossible crime would suffice, but I'm not entirely sure if I'd count the disappearing dead body as an impossible crime - I mention that purely because, given my predilection for such, people are going to ask, rather than as a criticism of the book - since the workings are not exactly so watertight as to warrant impossible status. But it is a superb jumping-off point for a thoroughly enjoyable and milieu-rich Golden Age pastiche, and I'm delighted to have taken the plunge with Dolores Gordon-Smith's work. Expect more on here in future.
Weekly 22nd June 2009
As if by Magic Dolores Gordon-Smith. Soho Constable, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-1-56947-588-1
Gordon-Smith’s intricate third 1920s mystery to feature writer-sleuth Jack Haldean (after 2008’s Mad About the Boy) opens with an intriguing setup: George Lassiter, a down-on-his-luck South African, breaks into what he thinks is an unoccupied London house, only to see what he's sure is a woman's murder. When the police collar him for burglary, he relates what happened, but the authorities find no evidence of foul play at the house. Fortunately, Haldean, who flew with Lassiter during WWI, learns of his situation and goes to his rescue. When Lassiter tells Haldean he's been cheated out of a bequest by an imposter, Haldean discovers that the people whose house Lassiter burglarized may be tied not only to the scam that deprived Lassiter of the bequest but to a series of murders reminiscent of the Ripper killings. Gordon-Smith does a solid job presenting fair-play clues.
Magical Resolution, 10 Jul 2009
By Suzette A. Hill (UK)
As If By Magic seems an entirely fitting title for this third novel in the Jack Haldean series. Dolores Gordon-Smith's capacity for tortuous plotting is intrinsically absorbing; but even more satisfying is the way that all the threads are drawn together in the end - as if by magic! For fans of Agatha Christie and other redoubtable 'plotters' this novel holds considerable appeal. However, it is not simply the ingenuity of the plot itself which holds our attention, but also the way that the 1920s' social scene is smoothly incorporated: the fusion of sedate tea parties and dope-ridden nightclubs comes over well; and the excitement of fast cars - and in particular fast aeroplanes - is beautifully recaptured. Gordon-Smith also has an unerring ability to render the physical tangibilities of experience: her recreation of the cold, isolation and bleakness of London on a drear Friday night is brilliantly portrayed - and unnerving! As indeed is her acute perception of the anxieties and disillusions of personal relationships. I can recommend this novel as an entertaining and intriguing read, but also as a reflective one.
Thanks, Suzette - I'm really grateful for that! Incidentally, if anyone wants a really good - and very funny - read, you could do no better than read Suzette's "Bones" trilogy. The latest one, "Bone Idle" is out now. Great stuff!
Rachel A Hyde
As If By Magic
A Jack Haldean Murder Mystery - Book III
by Dolores Gordon-Smith
South African George Lassiter is down on his luck after being cheated out of a huge inheritance. Ill, penniless and desperate he staggers into a house that looks oddly familiar... and witnesses a murder. But when the police arrive the body has vanished, and George is taken to hospital. It is only by chance that novelist Jack Haldean hears of him and remembers his old wartime comrade-in-arms. Rescued and installed in Jack’s apartment it is time for the pair to start trying to find out why somebody pretending to be George has already claimed his birthright.
Only the third book in the series, and already there is a totally different setting and cast, apart from Jack. We have had a country fete and house party setting for the previous two, and now London is the venue for what is, in my opinion, the best so far of a very good bunch. This is a story that constantly surprises, and which does not really even hint on the flyleaf—or in the description above—what the book is about. Something happens on every page, and what follows is a melange of old family secrets, assorted dastardly doings and shenanigans in the world of aviation. Apart from all this delightfully convoluted plotting we get to know a new cast of characters considerably well quite quickly, but even this is not the most impressive feature of this book. My admiration in particular has to be for the way in which the author depicts the heady world of aviation when it was still new enough to be exciting. This was a time when war planes were giving way to those used for pleasure, and people had dreams of owning their own and all that could entail. There is a palpable enthusiasm for this lost world in here, which is as enjoyable as the actual murder mystery. Here is a book that sets a high standard, and I find myself eager to read book four. If you enjoy writers like Barbara Cleverly then this will appeal—very highly recommended.
5 out of 5 stars terrific historical mystery, August 21, 2009
By Harriet Klausner
In the 1920s in London, South African expatriate George Lassiter breaks into a house he believes is empty. However, instead he hears voices in what sounds like the murder of a woman. Not sure what to do, he goes to leave quietly only the police arrest him accusing him of attempted burglary.
He tells the cops what he believes happened inside the house, but they find no evidence of a homicide. Private investigator Jack Haldean learns of his WWI flying mate's problems and goes to get him out of jail. George explains to Jack what he heard, why he was in the house and who owns it. Jack believes George that a murder probably occurred and that he was cheated by an impostor out of his inheritance. Jack investigates and learns the owners of the house are relatives of George who probably abetted the con artist who stole his bequest. Jack begins to piece together something more horrifying as an apparent serial killer is the loose while London remains ignorant.
The third Jack Haldean 1920s whodunit (see A FATE WORST THAN DEATH and MAD ABOUT THE BOY) is a terrific historical mystery that brings to life London through the eyes of an emigre author just after WWI. The story line is fast-paced from the moment George breaks into a house he believes he owns. Fans will relish Jack's inquiry as he finds much more than he expected.
RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH (USA) JAY STRAFFORD
The beginning could come straight from Agatha Christie. A man witnesses a murder, but when the police arrive, the body has disappeared. An heir is cheated of a legacy. And an aviation executive's disfigured body is found floating in the River Thames.
But in As If by Magic (296 pages, SohoConstable, $25), the third instalment in her Jack Haldean series, the stamp is unmistakably that of Dolores Gordon-Smith.
The mischief begins on a cold night in 1923, and it's not long before Haldean, a World War I veteran and a writer of detective stories, is called in to help an old friend. What he uncovers is a multitude of lies that force him to use all his inductive and deductive powers to uncover the truly evil villain.
Gordon-Smith pays homage to the mysteries of the Golden Age -- the final-chapter explanation from the amateur sleuth is one example, his amiability another -- but brings a 21st-century sensibility to her task. The result is period-piece delight that never seems dated.
I Love A Mystery (website USA)
AS IF BY MAGIC
Soho Constable August, 2009
George Lassiter is sick, cold, and hungry. He breaks into a stranger's house for warmth and food. While he is there, he witnesses the murder of a beautiful girl. When the police arrest him for burglary, he tells them what happened but they find no evidence of foul play.
Jack Haldean, who flew with Lassiter during World War I, learns of George's situation and goes to his rescue. When Jack learns of the events of the previous night, he believes, like the police, it was a nightmare brought on by delirium. A corpse just does not vanish, AS IF BY MAGIC.
If anybody is going to figure out this puzzle, it is going to have to have to be Haldean, because the London police are trying to solve a series of murders reminiscent of the Jack the Ripper killings. RECOMMENDED.
Marion E. Green
Dear Ms. Gordon-Smith:
I just finished reading "As if by Magic" and thoroughly enjoyed the book. When reading mysteries, I like to try to figure out who the culprit is. The explanation of the plot at the end of the book was wonderful.
I recently came across my copy of "And then there were none" by Agatha Christie. This was the first "grown-up" murder mystery I read as a teen (besides Nancy Drew mysteries), and I have added it to my reading list for the month. I have tried several English authors in the past, and have had difficulty getting interested in their books. However, you have a wonderful writing style and I am looking forward to reading your other books.
Sincerely, Joan Bare
An interview by Robin Agnew of Aunt Agatha's Bookstore posted on her website.
Robin has the knack of asking questions that ellicit a real spark to respond to.
The questions are about As If By Magic
I was so interested in Dolores' book I asked her to answer a few questions, which she nicely agreed to. Enjoy!
Q: Did you have a prior interest in aviation, or did it come about as you were writing? I appreciated the notes at the end of the book.
A: My Dad, who's still very much with us, I'm glad to say, was a pilot in the Second World War, and perhaps it's because of him that I have such a strong interest in early flying. I never had the money to do it for real—I was born in a very small terraced house (more about this later!)—but one of my earliest memories is sitting with Dad watching grainy black and white pictures of Spitfires scrambling on a TV programme called All Our Yesterdays while he told me what was happening. I was only about three at the time and I think that was my first encounter with History, as such; the idea that life had once been different. As I grew older, I read the Biggles series—I don't know if they're known in America—about the WWI fictional flying ace. W.E. Johns, the author, had been a WWI pilot and all sorts of middle-aged Brits (usually men, I have to say) go soggy when Biggles is mentioned. Naturally, it's one thing to have an interest in a subject and quite another to amass the sort of detail need for a book, so I had to do a lot of research, but, because of that life-long interest, knew the sort of thing I was looking for. I don't know why I go wobbly at the sight of a bi-plane, but I do!
Q: What's your writing process? Your plot was very complex with many details neatly dovetailing, so I am wondering how much advance planning you do.
A: I tend to start off with an opening scene that I find intriguing, such as poor old George at the beginning of As If By Magic. George is clearly a gent but destitute and he witnesses a murder. I live those first scenes in my head. CS Lewis likened this part of the process to bird-watching and I know exactly what he means. You have to be very still, and let it all unfold. Then come the questions; who are these people? what are they doing and why are they doing it? There's a lot of trust at this stage; you think out answers and trust it will carry you along the 80 to 100 thousand words or so, but you get a sense for the sort of "thickness" of the material. I play the fairness game with myself; the murderer doesn't murder in a playful sense of fun to make life complicated, but as the most obvious solution to a problem. His or her actions have to be logical. Actions always have consequences though, and the consequences are the plot.
Q: Lots of my favorite adult books seem to have roots in really good children's literature—a good story, well told, just can't be beat, in my opinion. And that's what all really good children's books do—tell a great story. Any children's influences that you feel carried through to your present writing? The reason I ask is I was so strongly reminded of C.S. Lewis' THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW in the scene when Jack goes from one row house to the next through the connected attics.
A: I couldn't agree more about good children's books. They have clarity, simplicity and economy and also let the reader do enough work to fill in details and make them live the story rather than beat you to death with details. I first read THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW at the age of eight, by which time I was an experienced attic explorer in the terrace I mentioned earlier! There's whole rows of terraces in my home town that I, together with friends, burrowed through. As a householder (and mother!) I'd play merry hell with any kid, mine or otherwise, I found trying it as it's dangerous, apart from anything else, but we were never caught. It's part of that rich, secret world of childhood which is such a brilliant resource for a writer. Lewis was certainly an attic explorer and he uses the attic eaves to explain the Wood Between The Worlds in THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW. The eaves are part of the house or world but not in the house or world. In one of his theological books he uses the image again, to illustrate the difference between being interested in religion and actual belief. In AS IF BY MAGIC the attics were a perfect solution to get Jack (and, later, the club raiders) into the dodgy club. I still live in a terraced house and went and sat under my own eaves before I wrote the scene, absorbing the smell and the feel and noticing how the wind and the sounds from the street come up under the slates. This left me with a) a lot of material b) the thought we should get some decent insulation!
Q: I liked the emotional connections you set up in this novel with George and his family—that's very powerful stuff. Do you plan to include George in future books, or will Jack go on his own path?
A: I absolutely loved George and got so attached to him that this can't possibly be his only outing. Besides that, although "old friends" are a very convenient way for Jack to get into the story, Jack's not so single-minded as to only look up old pals when they've been troubled by sudden death. It would make any old pal look askance at poor Jack if he was always a harbinger of mortality!
Q: How did you come up with the character of Jack? It's interesting that he's a writer—I especially liked the part where he proves to George that writers actually work. You included a lot of attitudes that would have actually been present in 1922 in a very subtle way.
A: Inventing Jack was like watching paint dry! I knew what sort of person I wanted but getting there was very long-winded. I wanted him to have been in the war, so although young he could be mature, know a great many sorts of people and he had to be a pilot, which sounded exciting. He's half-Spanish, to make him a bit of an outsider, as all classic detectives are, and a Catholic, which puts him outside the mainstream too. He needed well-off relations so he could do country house mysteries (which I love) but I didn't want him to be rich himself, as to be unconcerned by money is a state of affairs I find nearly unbelievable! Poirot's Belgium thrift is, I think, a very endearing characteristic whereas Wimsey's careless wealth does irritate me. So he had to have a job but what? The obvious choice is policeman, but I so loved private eye stories, that I wanted him to be independent. However, you can't run round detecting if you're constantly begging time off work. Doctor, architect, lawyer? My favourite choice, for a while, was artist, but it's difficult being a Twenties artist. You're either traditional, which is dull, or a Cubist or Neo-Vorticist, which is too radical. There was an "Uh? Duh?" movement when I realised he was a writer and, naturally, he writes detective stories. In MAD ABOUT THE BOY? the second book, there's a whole sequence in which the mystery at hand is analysed by strict detective story rules. I found that tremendous fun to write. Oh yes, and I wanted to fancy him rotten. All of this was worked out before I wrote a word. The "writer" sequence is my response to all those who think writing is like literary knitting—a mere pastime—filtered through the attitudes of the Twenties.
Q: On that same note, how difficult is it to get into the head of someone who existed in 1922? Is it like being possessed by the past?
A: I find it dead easy! I've read shedloads of early Twentieth century books and stiffened them up with real history. It's not possession, as such—I usually remember what year we're in—but there's a real double vision.
Q: I noticed on your jacket flap that you have 5 children! How do you manage your life? What's a typical day for you?
A: When the children were young I couldn't do anything but be a full-time Mum but, now the youngest is 15 and the eldest (and still at home) is 22, life's a lot more relaxed. I'm very lucky in that we all get on very well, so it's all fairly smooth, really. Once I've seen everyone on their way, I do any outstanding housework jobs, then get cracking. If I hit a snag, I can always do some more housework, as it's fairly endless, and mull things over at the same time. If they gave out gold stars for ironing, I'd have a constellation by now! However, I think the real writing heroes are those who have a "proper" job as well. I find that really impressive.
Q: Is there any element of fantasy at work here? I know Dorothy Sayers, when she was struggling financially, gave Wimsey a butler and a glamorous life so she could live vicariously through him. What's especially appealing to you about 1922?
A: Fantasy? In a way, yes. I've always loved the Agatha Christie/PG Wodehouse type world and can't help thinking that the stork stopped off at the wrong address when he dropped me in the middle of the Twentieth Century rather than the end of the Nineteenth. I should have been partying in Mayhem Parva by 1922. However, we can't have everything in this life!
Why the Twenties? It was war that changed everything (you get the same idea about the South in Gone With The Wind). The Twenties, marked by a reckless love of sensation, sense of fun and deliberate flouting of previous shibboleths is an attempt to drown out the memory of mud, blood and heartbreak. At the same time, the old world of convention and formality is vigorously alive. What emerges is an edge; a clash of two worlds and the idea that nothing is ever quite what it seems. It's heady stuff.
Q: And finally, any contemporary writers you especially admire? (I say "contemporary" because I was tired of getting the answer "Jane Austen" when I asked this question).
A: One of the nice things about going to Crime-writing festivals is meeting new (to you) authors in the flesh. I try to read as much as I can before I go and have discovered some real stars. Louise Penny was one, with her richly imagined world of Three Pines, Suzette Hill, with her very funny "Bones" books, Lesley Horton with compelling stories of Yorkshire crime with a racial element and another Yorkshire woman, Jane Finnis, who writes terrific stories set in Roman Britain. Terry Pratchett is an absolute favourite. Discworld is a stunning creation, a place to lose yourself in, wise, moving and very funny. The Counting Pines in Mort are up there with the best of Wodehouse. And did I love Harry Potter? You bet. Oh, and by the way, I love Jane Austen too!
Aunt Agahta's Bookstore
As if by Magic by Dolores Gordon-Smith
Before you skip ahead, after seeing this is an historical novel in hardcover by a virtually unknown author, take into account that Gordon-Smith was recommended to me by no less than Louise Penny. While I had to work my way through a gigantic reading pile before getting to Gordon-Smith's book, I was chastened when I finally picked it up, as it was several months after Louise had recommended it, and after I started I wanted to slap my forehead in disgust at myself. This is the long way of saying that this is a terrific book.
This novel may have one of the better opening sequences that I've read almost ever. It's 1922 London, and a starving, ill man named George Lassiter is lurching around Mayfair when he sees a warm looking, cozy kitchen that seems to call to him for some reason. When he sees all the servants leaving, he looks under the mat, finds a key, and lets himself in, to get warm by the fire, eat some sandwiches, and where he eventually falls asleep. When he wakes up in the darkened kitchen he thinks he sees a murder, but when he runs into the street, virtually into the arms of a policeman to report what he's seen, the body is gone. Shortly after, the seriously ill George collapses, and from there Gordon-Smith's storytelling wizardry takes hold and the book is off and running. You'll be seriously hooked at this point.
Gordon-Smith's series character is one Jack Haldean, a crime writer who, it turns out, served in the war with George Lassiter. Jack takes George in as he has nowhere to go, and from there the story is almost Dickensian in terms of coincidence, though as you're reading it it probably won't strike you as a bit far fetched. You'll be too caught up in the story. I imagine that someone who possesses as strong a narrative gift as Gordon-Smith obviously does has so much fun thinking up the details of her story, it's hard to leave juicy plot points out, and indeed, they do nothing but enhance the novel.
I don't want to give too much more away of this ingeniously constructed novel other that it say it involves early aviation, a lost fortune, a dodgy club, and an apparent serial killer that has the police completely stumped. Throw in a little romance and the ebb and flow of two old friends sharing a small flat and the resulting book is a wonder. It's structured in a very traditional way, and the historical detail provides just enough background, but not too much—it feels natural. Any fan of either the traditional British mystery or of the historical mystery should be in heaven.
Mystery Women magazine
By Linda Regan
As If By Magic by Dolores Gordon-Smith:
It is a depressingly cold night in London in the early twenties when this book opens and Dolores Gordon-Smith wastes no time in drawing the reader in to the atmosphere of that ever popular bygone era. Her attention for detail remains impressive from the start to the finish of this clever and unique murder mystery. If you are a fan of this period, you will love this book, if you aren’t, I would still highly recommend it, Gordon- Smith is a great story weaver.
George Lassiter is ill, destitute and desperate enough to break into a house in London for warmth and hopefully something to eat. I could almost taste and smell the smog on the streets of London as this happened. But why does he feel this strong sense of déjà vu, once inside this house? And is the murder of the beautiful girl a hallucination, a sign of his desperate plight, and need for immediate medical attention? His very old friend Jack Haldean, who flew with him in the war, then comes to his aid, and helps investigate George’s claim of witnessing this murder; but, along with the police, Jack believes that it was indeed a figment of George’s imagination brought about by his illness, as every bit of evidence has vanished- just- as if by magic. The consequences of this then move the story on and take Jack and George on a long journey involving the theft of George’s rightful inheritance, as well as tracking down a ruthless killer. The plot is clever, it’s full of red herrings and wrong turnings and keeps us guessing. Gordon-Smith is a fine craftsman of crime-writing, as well as a first class story teller. Her writing is clear, and so atmospheric one can almost smell the smoke from the cigarettes in their long holders and the strings of pearls on the flappers. Next Gordon-Smith book eagerly awaited.
5.0 out of 5 stars
'As if by Magic', 5 Jan 2010
By LornaM "LornaM"
I am an avid Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Georgette Heyer and Dorothy L Sayers fan and this is the best detective story I have read since I finished reading all of the books of all of the aforementioned authors! Couldn't put it down! Have just ordered 'A Fete Worse Than Death' and can't wait for it to arrive!
This is Kim Malo, writing on the Mystery Blog HEY, THERE'S A DEAD GUY IN THE LIVING ROOM on 24th January 2010.
Dolores Gordon-Smith’s Jack Haldean series falls in the same category of fun, light reading that brings to life and left me interested in a setting that wouldn’t on its own pique my interest. The books have a strongly Golden Age (Allingham, Sayers et al) feel but stand on their own and are not blatantly derivative.
A big part of why they made me interested in the setting is Haldean himself, who is not just a popular part of the social scene but also someone who carries his own scars from the recent war. Scars (mental and physical) which didn’t leave him the sort of deeply, visibly tortured person Charles Todd depicts with Ian Rutledge, but scars nonetheless. The fact that they are largely buried gets you thinking all the more when they do appear about comparable not so visible scars that period must have left on countless other regular people, including the sort of person you or I would have been and known. They come out in small ways, such as when Haldean suggests a friend who is acting very strangely "see someone (i.e. a shrink of some sort)", and the friend looks at the confident, well adjusted man saying this and asks what he knows about such things, since he’s never... Haldean just smiles... oh. It leaves the reader with an impression of how much well hidden damage that time must have done to how very many people, in a way that all the more obviously scarred Rutledges of the world can't, because this could be me or you.
Mad About The Boy
1st May 2008
Murder winnows the guests at a country-house party. World War I pilot-turned-mystery author Jack Haldean is attending his Aunt Alice and Uncle Philip's Silver Wedding ball at Hesperus, their country estate, when the murder of Jack's old friend Tim Preston disrupts the festivities. Down on his luck, Tim's been working as a secretary for Lord Lyvenden, an obnoxious munitions manufacturer who made a big enough bundle during the war to buy a peerage and a well-bred wife to go along with it.
Tim's death looks like suicide, but Jack is suspicious, and when Lyvenden is discovered in a pool of blood he springs into sleuthing mode again (A Fete Worse Than Death, 2007). Jack's shell-shocked pal Arthur Stanton, who was found standing over the body, has decamped, but Jack wants to believe him innocent. Also staying at Hesperus is his beautiful cousin Isabelle, who despite her recent engagement to wealthy banker and sportsman Malcolm Smith-Fennimore is a little in love with Stanton and sure he's innocent; Smith-Fennimore himself, who takes a shot at the fleeing Stanton; Lyvenden's unconcerned widow Lady Harriet and her companion, Lyvenden's former mistress; Lady Alice's swaggering stepson; and sundry other guests and servants. Perhaps several mysterious and threatening Russians, some missing papers and tales of Czarist gold may hold a clue. A classic postwar country-house mystery with a Christie-like denouement.
I live in Kansas City, Missouri USA. I just obtained Mad About the
Boy and read it in one sitting. I have thoroughly enjoyed both of your books
and look forward to the next installment.
--Gregory W. Vleisides, P.C.--
Rachel A. Hyde
Dolores Gordon-Smith made her literary debut last year with A Fete Worse Than Death (also reviewed on this site), a book that I chose as one of my Crime Thru Time Top Ten historical whodunits. Now debonair sleuth-about-town Jack Haldean is back with a second helping of murder and mystery as he celebrates the silver wedding of his aunt and uncle at their country house Hesperus. Jack’s cousin Isabelle is trying to decide between the sympathetic but shell-shocked Arthur and the glamorous, reckless Malcolm. They both love her, but she is not sure which man she would prefer to marry. Soon there is a rather more pressing problem to think about when a guest commits suicide – or did he? Another death soon afterwards would suggest not, but surely the guilty man must be somebody else?
I love classic era mysteries with Bright Young Things in grand country houses and this is a good one with plenty going on at all times. The author has researched the period thoroughly, and the shadow of the Great War hangs over everything, as it should do for historical accuracy. Jack is a sympathetic sleuth with a living to earn and a genuine affection for his friends but a sensibly impartial view when he has a case to solve. As such, he makes a good protagonist who stands a little aside from the entanglements, which allows him to get on with finding whodunit as well as lifting the spirits of the story. There is romance in here as well as abundant action, and despite the anguished Arthur and war reminiscences this is still a cozy in the broadest sense of the term. Ignore the mention of “torture” on the flyleaf as there isn’t any; this is just not that type of novel. Instead, sit back with a pot of tea an enjoy a real classic era novel that will doubtlessly make my Top Ten again.
I loved this book! A stunning return for the hero of last summer's release, A Fete Worse Than Death, with romance, Russians and fabulous evening dress thrown in. The plot races along, and you never guess what's going to happen next. Awesome book!
This was on the website, DorothyL
Welcome to Dolores Gordon-Smith, author of the delightful Jack Haldean
mysteries, set in post-World War I England. If you've not yet made the
acquaintance of Jack and his creator, the first book, A Fete Worse Than Death
came out last year, and the second, Mad About the Boy?, just came out in the
US. I haven't had a chance yet to read the new book, but I read Fete last year
and thought it an excellent read. It's a nice companion to the Charles Todd,
Maisie Dobbs, and Kerry Greenwood series.
Dean James (aka Jimmie Ruth Evans and Honor Hartman)
The Richmond Times-Dispatch
29th June 2008
Oh, sigh the mystery fans: If only someone would write an English house-party novel, set in the Golden Age and infused with its sensibilities.
Someone is. And Dolores Gordon-Smith brings the setting and the story alive in Mad About the Boy? (288 pages, SohoConstable, $24.95), the second in her Jack Haldean series. It's 1923, and Jack, a World War I veteran who writes detective stories, is visiting his cousin Isabelle Rivers at her parents' stately home, where the parents have gathered a crowd for their silver-anniversary festivities.
But the party turns ugly when a guest is found shot to death. An alleged suicide note is found nearby, but Jack suspects murder. When another guest is discovered stabbed to death, Jack goes on the hunt. Complicating matters are a veritable school of red herrings, Isabelle's being torn between two suitors and the appearance of some communist revolutionaries.
With vision and vigor, Gordon-Smith pulls off another Golden Age delight -- one touched with contemporary concerns -- that will have readers longing for the return of the era, and for Jack and his pals.
Intelligent Nostalgia, 29 Jun 2008
By Suzette A. Hill
Mad about the Boy? (Hardcover)
In his play "Forty Years On", the inimitable Alan Bennett refers to "that school of Snobbery with Violence that runs like a thread of good-class tweed through twentieth century literature". Well, Dolores Gordon-Smith's latest novel "Mad About The Boy?" certainly has the texture of good-class tweed, but the snobbery is only mild and the violence comfortably refined! In short, this is an eminently civilized and reassuring pastiche of the classic English detective genre: good style, fiendishly orchestrated plot, plucky protagonists, foreign assassins and suave villains. Furs, Abdullahs, balls, butlers and Bugattis (Spykers and Bentleys,actually),set the social scene and provide an authentic background to the bizarre events. Yet the sombre spectre of the Great War casts its long shadow, and thus the mixture of gaiety and threat, decency and cynicism produces an ethos of moral ambiguity - a fusion which gives the novel both its realism and its intrigue
I was very pleased to get the following email from Toby. Toby and Bill Gottfried are well-known to many as very kind and hugely energetic organizors of Crimefest etc. When I say energetic, I mean it. You never know quite where in the world they're going to turn up next! I had the luck to be on a panel moderated by Toby at the Bristol Crimefest 2008 and her insight, comments and questions made it a very enjoyable experience, both for the panellists and the audience. Bill, who was in the audience, helped with his very perceptive comments.
From Toby Gottfried
Mad About The Boy was really a “good read”. I didn’t guess who did the murders! You are one clever lady for good plotting. But I especially appreciated the tie in with Stanton’s war experiences and the historical feeling for the 1920s. But of course that’s what good writing is all about. Bill and I find that Soho Press publications are always excellent from the cover to the content.
A copy is going to my cousin who started reading the book at a picnic when I left the book unguarded on the table and couldn’t put it down!
Hope the next episode in the life of Jack is on the way.
MAD ABOUT THE BOY? is the second book to feature 1920s crime writer Jack Haldean who made his first appearance in A FETE WORSE THAN DEATH.
Jack has been invited to the country house residence of his cousin Isabelle whose parents are celebrating their silver wedding anniversary in grand style with illustrious house-guests and fireworks. However it's not long before things go pear-shaped with the apparent suicide of one of Jack's friends, Tim Preston, who ran with an expensive crowd including fellow guest, racing driver Malcolm Smith-Fennimore and was employed as a secretary to the fireworks provider and munitions dealer Lord Lyvenden.
It's very rare in crime fiction that a suicide is actually a suicide and Jack is soon on the case, calling it murder, helped by an observation from his shell-shocked friend Arthur, a young man with a tendresse for Isabelle. Unfortunately he has strong competition in the dashing Malcolm.
Matters become further complicated with a second death, a disappearance and the involvement of Russians. Jack and his friend Superintendent Ashley have their work cut out to get to the truth of the matter.
I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but MAD ABOUT THE BOY? has an absolutely stunning jacket (by Ken Leeder). Thankfully, I enjoyed the inside of the book as well. The 1920s atmosphere seems effortlessly conjured up and the repercussions of the Great War are strongly presented. Jack Haldean is a decent chap and I'd like to know a bit more about those detective stories he writes. The plot is nicely convoluted and there's a homage to the 'locked room' mystery sub-genre. Though this is set mainly in a country house, it's not one of those typical country house mysteries, where the protagonists are trapped by snow - the protagonists move about the countryside and up to 'Town' as required. This is an absorbing period mystery.
Jack does it again!!, 18 Aug 2008
By Barbara Edwards
I loved this book!
Lots of romance, a fabulous evening ball and menacing Russians thrown in.I love classic era mysteries in grand country houses with plenty going on at all times. MAD ABOUT THE BOY? also has an absolutely stunning jacket (by Ken Leeder)which sets up the anticipation for a delicious, right good read! I loved the way Dolores G.S. has researched the 1920`s period ,the atmosphere seems so effortlessly brought to life and the repercussions of the Great War are continual undercurrents throughout the story. I felt that I could easily have slipped into the party at Hesperus(in a beautiful ballgown of course!) and had a wonderful evening,lucky Isabelle enjoying the company of both Jack and Arthur. I Can`t wait for the next Jack Mystery!!
Hello. I found your books purely by chance and I am so glad that I
did, they are wonderful and I must tell you that they have been the main reason
for my losing weight (I can't put them down and then miss dinner). Is there a
third book currently in production and if so when do you hope to have it
finished? So looking forward to your future work.
I only wish writing could lose weight as effectively as reading! Now where did I put that bar of Cadburys....
A very enjoyable British cozy mystery., October 2, 2008
By andiesenji (SoCal,USA) - See all my reviews
This story caught my interest in the first few paragraphs and I simply could not put it down until I finished it. It is very evocative of the era and the references to the aftereffects of "The Great War" are very similar to the stories I was told by my great uncles who lived through it.
The characters are well developed and very believable and sympathetic.
This book is as good as any from the masters of the genre.
Hello! I recently ran across A Fete Worse Than Death at my local library -- I picked it up because of the witty title and the '20s timeframe -- and I fell hard for Jack Haldean. I then bought Mad About the Boy?, and I finished it this morning. It's such a pleasure to spend time in your books. I feel as though I'm reading a series from a contemporary of Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh or Margery Allingham.
I hope you have many plans for store for Jack? I was just mentioning to someone that I wish there were already ten books in the series, with more on the way. Simply waiting for the third book to arrive will be difficult. Smile I want to learn more about your wonderful protagonist and his world!
Thank you for some very enjoyable reading, and for a new mystery series to love.
A Fete Worse Than Death
A Fête Worse Than Death
Jack Haldean, former RAF pilot and now a promising crime writer, is staying with his cousins, the Rivers, at their stately home in Sussex . Attending a fête on a glorious summer day, he reflects how he dreamed of this sort during the war, but surely his idyll did not include a murdered man in the fortuneteller's tent? Nor another body in the local inn? Jack has tried his hand helping Scotland Yard before and had some success – can he solve the murders and prevent any more happening?
Old sins cast some long shadows in this highly promising debut. The early years of the Roaring Twenties are sketched lightly in, instantly bringing the era to life without overdoing too much extraneous detail. It is a rattling good plot too, with plenty of plot-appropriate period detail, the necessary red herrings and constant action of some sort or another. It is a remarkably polished work for a first novel, and I look forward to reading more in the series. Perhaps inevitably Jack is not a terribly interesting protagonist, but he is amiable and makes a decent detective who manages not to make the obvious mistakes that mar many books of this type. All in all, highly recommended and the best crime series debut of this year to date.
Rachel A Hyde
Historical Novel Magazine
A summer's day in 1922, a village fete being enjoyed by Jack Haldean, crime writer and ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot. is then spoilt by the appearance of the obnoxious Jeremy Boscombe, also ex-RFC. Boscombe is permanently removed, shot while sleeping off his excesses in the fortune-teller's tent. Later that day another murder happens in Boscombe's room at the local inn.
Jack, in these days of innocence, teams up with the local police and soon realises that the anser belongs to a time during the Battle of the Somme and an incident of great betrayal there. As he delves into the past, many secrets are revealed. People are not what they seem and motives proliferate.
Reminiscent of the style of earlier crime novels, this one has been thoroughly researched both for the details of the war and the social conventions of the late (sic) 1920s. Jack is an attractive slueth and there are plenty of possible suspects, danger in abundance and a cleverly contrived denouement. An enjoyable read.
RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH (USA)
The "Golden Age" of British mystery fiction -- dominated by Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers -- expired with its creators. Gone are the days of the English village, the manor house, the upper crust, the baffling murder -- and the drawing-room explanation at the end.
Or maybe not.
Dolores Gordon-Smith's A Fete Worse Than Death (288 pages, Carroll & Graf, $14.95), the first in her projected Jack Haldean series, re-creates the good old days.
At a village fete during the "long weekend" between world wars, Haldean encounters a former officer from the Royal Flying Corps. The meeting isn't pleasant -- Haldean detests Jeremy Boscombe. When Boscombe is found murdered in the fortune teller's tent, and when the body of one of his sleazy associates is found at the village inn, Haldean -- a crime novelist and amateur detective -- feels compelled to help the police with their inquiries. He concludes that the killings stem from a case of treason during World War I.
Gordon-Smith incorporates all the traditional elements into this stylish whodunit, including Haldean's drawing-room explanation. Fans not content to let bygone be bygone will have reason to cheer for this sparkling and intelligent mystery.
The Posioned Pen Mystery website
It's summer, 1922, and the Red Cross fête is in full swing in a sleepy Sussex village. Former Royal Flying Corps pilot Jack Haldean is annoyed when a man briefly under his command turns up. But soon Boscombe is found shot in the fortune-teller's booth and another Londoner is found dead down the pub. Jack, having made a stir as a crime writer, is recruited by Ins. Ashley. Both realize the murders are linked to the Battle of the Somme and the tunnels beneath Augier Ridge. Good humored, well written—a kind of cross between Dorothy L. Sayers and Charles Todd, not dark like Todd, but unflinching.
Tangled Web UK
Review August 2007
The title conjures images of Christie and Sayers at their most trivial, a text full of 'jolly good' and 'I say', and probably a cat thrown in as well. The use of a protagonist who is a professional crime fiction writer and amateur sleuth only confirms these expectations, preparing readers for a male equivalent of Ariadne Oliver. There is also a country fair in a fictional Home Counties village, a manor house, and a cast of upper class characters who harbour sinister secrets. "By crikey!" is, in fact, never far from the lips of Jack Haldean, a tall, dark, and handsome Royal Flying Corps major turned author. But Haldean is more Biggles than Thomas Beresford and this is a carefully crafted, pacy Golden Age detective story rather than a cosy mystery.
With a complete absence of cute animals, feline or otherwise.
Four years after the First World War Haldean is visiting his uncle – Lord Rivers – and his family in Sussex. He and his cousin, also a veteran, run into a third ex-RFC pilot by the name of Boscombe. Boscombe is an unsympathetic individual, with a reputation for cowardice, and his murder at the fête passes unlamented. Superintendent Ashley recruits Haldean because of his previous assistance to an inspector in the Metropolitan Police, and because Ashley realises the solution to the murder may lie in the struggle for the Augier Ridge, part of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. In addition to Boscombe and Haldean, several local characters are connected to the battle: Colonel Richard Whitfield won his Victoria Cross there; Mrs Anne- Marie Verrity is a French widow who owns the land on which the battle was fought; and Marguerite Vayle is the daughter of a disgraced major accused of treason during the battle.
Such are the ingredients of this murder mystery, expertly mixed in a delicious cocktail of crime full of twists, turns, and two more murders.
For a first novel Fête is impressive and Mrs Gordon-Smith is to be congratulated for a spectacular debut. Other than the title – which may well attract more readers than it puts off – there is only one obvious criticism. As the denouement approaches, Haldean's thought processes are explained in the form of a conversation between him and Isabelle Rivers (another cousin). He naturally dominates the conversation as he takes her through the steps of his reasoning. The device is a handy one, but overused when he explains his deductions in greater detail immediately after the climax. It is a small flaw, however, only noticeable because of the style and panache of the rest of the narrative.
Jack Haldean is a very welcome addition to the annals of crime fiction. He will be a series character, with the second instalment due next year. Mrs Gordon- Smith's likeable characters, taught structure, and spine-tingling foreshadowing will appeal to a broad audience, from cosy mystery lovers right the way through to hardboiled detective enthusiasts. She is no doubt at the beginning of a distinguished career as a crime writer.
Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader
If you love a well-plotted mystery with characters you won't want to leave, then A Fete Worse Than Death by talented author Dolores Gordon-Smith is just the book for you. This is a tale with all those things that make for a great read.
Jack Haldean is attending a fete on the grounds of the manor house owned by relatives, enjoying himself in spite of the heat and noise. While he's relaxing he spies one man he does not wish to see, but the man has seen him and accosts him.
An unpleasant sort, the intruder is given short shrift and Jack does make his escape to resume his pleasure. Unfortunately, it is cut short by an unexpected death that Jack sets out to solve. The odds seem against his finding a killer as other bodies start turning up and they are all connected.
Set in a period of not-too-distant history, the intrigue of this tale takes place in a period the author convinces us is yesterday with description that puts us in the time so we feel as if we actually visited the fete. Lifelike characters carry the plot with their motives and personal agendas. Are they all who they seem to be? Lots of action and tension in this tale that has its roots in the past, proving that things done today will affect tomorrow.
Guaranteed a fun read worth the time and you'll be looking for more stories by this imaginative author. Enjoy. I sure did.
People's Friend Magazine
The People's Friend didn't do a review, exactly, but named "Fete" as their book of the month for September.
Penelope Wallace comments:
A gripping debut novel!
I thought this book was really fantastic. An enthralling plot told with characters you'll love that never loses its sense of humor, Jack Haldean has the wit and brains to be far more interesting than the average square-jawed hero whilst his cousin Isabelle is beautifully drawn - as are the rest of the cast! There are enough murders, mysteries and tangled motives to keep you guessing until the end, and it all pays of fantastically when you do. All in all, a gripping debut, I can't wait for number two!
By J. Whitbourn "JAW" (Surrey, England.)
Apparently this is a debut novel but you'd never know that from the author's assured style and masterly plotting. Add to that an attractive, intriguing, main character and evident deep authorial knowledge of the period (though always lightly conveyed). This bids to be the start of a not-to-be-missed series. A highly recommended buy.
Ewan Wilson. Waterstones, Glasgow
This captures beautifully the sense of nostalgia for the post war Twenties frivolity and but still haunted by the traumas of the Great War which form a central plank of the plot. This may be a debut but the author writes with an admirable control of her plot and characters and whilst the denouement may be a shade straining towards a melodramatic finale it is an effortless read with a very satisfying conclusion. The upper crust cast of characters around the former Royal Flying Corps hero, Jack Haldean will be addictive to all history mystery fans! If Mrs Gordon-Smith can keep this up she's bound for major stardom!
Mystery Women Magazine
Dolores Gordon-Smith is a new author in detective fiction with this first adventure starring Jack Haldane, a crime writer in Sussex in 1922. The story has its roots in the recent conflict - the Great War - in which Jack was a participant as a Royal Flying Corps pilot, so he is well qualified to attempt to puzzle out the causes of two deaths. The first body is found in a tent at the local fete and the second is discovered soon after at the village pub. Quintessentially British, you might say, and this impression is increased when it transpires that Jack is staying with cousins in the equivalent of the village manor.
All the attributes of a country house mystery are enhanced by the book’s idyllic-appearing cover with Jack in his striped blazer against a sunny 1920s fete background. I am not sure that this cheery cover doesn’t do the book a disservice by making it seem lightweight when in fact the mystery is deep and dark with its origins in a battle in the network of tunnels under part of the Somme in 1916. The title also seems insouciant and trifling, unlike the events depicted. Perhaps the contrast between the frenetic 1920s and the appalling experiences of WW1 are meant to be brought to mind. Lots of 1920s cliches appear and some are turned on their heads as love, money, blackmail and revenge come to figure largely in the story. This is a good read - characters are varied, developments are fast and the denouement is superb. Jack is a well developed personality whose rationalisations are fascinating to follow as evidence piles up to point in directions he is reluctant to go.
Rachel Reads (Website)
Just a well-written mystery
A Fête Worse Than Death by Dolores Gordon-Smith was a random read for me. I saw the second book in the series in the library, liked the cover and the plot description, so I decided to read the first book.
Set in post-WWI England, this mystery features Major Jack Haldean. He's visiting his relatives in the countryside when a murder occurs. As a mystery writer and sort of an amateur crimesolver, Jack offers his help to the local police. As Jack and the local inspector delve into the mystery, links to an incident from The Great War start to emerge--but links to his own family's involvement also emerge, making this mystery quite personal.
I thought the book was really well-written. It was one of those books that I'd periodically say to myself, "I'm impressed; this is good writing." There's no romance; just straight-up mystery. As always, the ending surprised me but made perfect sense.
I tend to like more romance in my mysteries, so I may not read the next one...or I may, just because I like Gordon-Smith's style. It was true to the era--the 1920s--and yet not annoying at all. Nicely done, Mrs. G-S.
I absolutely loved the story. I loved how you allowed me to almost touch the answer but just kept it out of my immediate grasp! It was so much fun working out the roles of each character and their parts in the 'murders'. It rewarded me by letting me be 'right' on many occasion, but never let me win that victory too easily. Yes, it was great fun!
My Mum was equally impressed, she 'couldn't put the book down', and she loved the twists and 'can't wait for your next book to come out'. We will be having a telephone book review tonight, she wants to talk about the book more but because I hadn't finished it, she said she would wait. I share the eagerness for your next release. Can't wait for the next murder mystery explored by our dashing ' Jack Haldean'! What a man! Quietly confident, adventurous, intelligent and just a bit brave to boot! Thanks, Dolores. A truly 'cracking yarn'! Well done to you! Thanks, again - Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!
Saga magazine for August 2007 put "Fete" together with Suzette A Hill's "A Load Of Old Bones"
Two delicious murder mysteries hark back to the golden age of English crime fiction, when bodies were discovered in vicarage libraries or murder was done in marquees. Gordon-Smith's clean-cut hero plays a straight bat; Hill's characters are more whimsical - a dog, a cat, a clergyman. To be read while eating strawberries and listening to a brass band.
Star Quality!, 10 Jul 2007
By Wiggley "Worm" (South Yorkshire)
Dolores Gordon-Smith clearly has researched this book very well and has an excellent writing style. The main character Jack Haldean is fantastic -as you read the book you can see how easily this could be made into a TV Murder Mystery series.
A brilliant read, 18 Jun 2007
By Barbara edwards -summers "bookworm" (England)
I really enjoyed this book and found it hard to put down! I loved the main character Jack he seems so perceptive and gentlemanly and treats a lady just as one would wish to be treated! The characters are drawn with such clarity and they jump off the page.I also loved the red herrings along the way to put the reader " off the scent!" The explanation at the end was so well thought out and so cleverly constructed. Can`t wait for the next one!
Mystery Women magazine
Ewan W. Wilson
Crime Buyer for Waterstones, Glasgow.
The unmissable Dolores Gordon-Smith is fast becoming my favourite with her Jack Haldean series in “A Fête Worse Than Death” and “Mad About The Boy?”
This author does exemplify what it is that attracts us back time after time to the interwar years and the Twenties especially. Mrs Gordon-Smith captures the schizophrenic nature of that era. There are skittish, hedonistic Bright Young Things with their facetious banter and conscious repudiation of their elders’ more starchy, very conventional pre-War ways. However, it’s a sadly febrile sense of desperation after the horrors they have been through on the Front continues to haunt this generation and in the Haldean novels impinge directly on events.
Her “Mad About The Boy?” in quite straightforward and unsentimental manner poignantly conveys the tender bonds forged in military comradeship, all the more powerful for being so reticently expressed, and the tragedy of the bloodshed that was the Great War. Indeed, its denouement leaves one with the usual sense of Justice Done but mingled with great sadness. Her characters act and speak convincingly which lends the motive great authenticity and both her novels move along at a fine, energetic pace and teem with nice misdirections and deviously planted clues.
I’d place her as cream of the crop in the current Twenties-set mysteries. Jack is an admirable character but no prig or paragon, just very human. Grab the books – they’re great reads.
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